We started out like most other confused, dazed, rookie homeschool parents. We read all the right books, and bought all the right curriculum. We purchased textbooks, manipulatives, art supplies, music supplies, a piano, a recorder (just in case our musical child couldn't conquer the piano), playground equipment, a new computer, an aquarium, a pair of gerbils (after all, she had to learn about science first-hand), educational videos, educational audio cassettes, and computer programs. Then we signed her up for dance class, gymnastics, piano, soccer, Daisy Scouts, and all our church activities. If you are a veteran homeschooler you are probably smiling right about now. Our five-year-old was going to be the best educated and most well-rounded child on this earth!
Within a few months, we could drop every important name in the homeschool movement. We could quote Mary Pride by heart. We read everything by the Moores. We read all the Holt books. All the homeschool self-help books were on our shelves. Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason became our mentors; but then so did the Moores, Holt, the BJU and A Beka representatives . . . and let's not leave out Konos, Weaver, and Ann Ward. Now add a toddler, baby, and pregnant mom to the equation and what do you get?
We had all the right stuff, but no idea how to fit it all together! Though obvious to us now, we were trying to combine umpteen different homeschool methods, and we were totally missing the boat! One day we would sit in our new classroom with our workbooks; the next we would be outside drawing letters in the sand and catching bugs. It just depended on which expert's book I had last read. Of course, the days during which we did what appeared to be "nothing" were many, because of the babies and Mom's morning sickness and lack of energy.
No wonder I had no energy. I was trying to be everything, and more, to everyone! I was Super Homeschooling Mom, and everyone was so impressed with how fast I had caught on to this new adventure. After all, within a year I had become overactive in our homeschool support group. We had field trips and co-ops and all kinds of neat things planned every week. How could we fail? We were doing all the right things!
Life was swirling around us. We seemed to never finish what we started. In spite of the thousand dollars that I had spent that first year, the whole experience wasn't rewarding. Our delightful little girl was doing quite nicely. She was adaptable, although somewhat confused about what we would be doing from day to day. Well, we trudged along at this haphazard pace, until.... it all spun out of control.
A Change of Pace
It was shortly after Christmas of our second homeschooling year, and baby number four was due any day. We were still recovering from holiday festivities, homeschool support group gatherings, and countless other holiday activities we had become involved in so that our little student would have all that we could offer her.
She got it all right! She came down with a serious stomach virus, and soon everyone in our home was sick. We all recovered fairly quickly, but she couldn't shake it off. Within a couple of weeks, she was hospitalized. I was waddling around nine months pregnant, not sure what exactly was wrong with my child and exhausted from the long months of chaos. She was in the hospital for a week, and finally diagnosed with inflamed intestines from the virus. The doctor's prescription was "to keep her away from other children for the next 3-6 months. No exposure to any new germs." Two days after she was released from the hospital, our baby daughter was born.
There ended our merry-go-round of perfect homeschooling, and there begin our "perfect" life of taking it all one day at a time. I learned to really listen to my child. I learned to read a story or just cuddle in front of the fireplace, while my children told me stories. I learned to really go outside and catch ants and beetles . . . or just pretend we were a rock or blade of grass for a few minutes in the afternoon. We actually got the art supplies out, and painted the sky. We built towering structures with the huge Cuisenaire rod set I had purchased for math. We played hopscotch and jackrocks. We read poetry books together! All these things were much easier to do with toddlers in tow, and a newborn riding joyfully in a baby sling. We didn't have to watch the clock to finish math problems, or fill in the blanks in a phonics book. Why bother? She was reading poetry to me, and counting ants! We didn't even miss all our activities! We finally had time to have fun!
A New Philosophy
We had made a discovery! Even though it had already been discovered by John Holt and many others before us, it was a breath of fresh air for this tired, exhausted mom. We had discovered education at its finest. We were unschooling.
What is unschooling? Among the many different definitions that have been tossed about, the one that best describes unschooling is "allowing your child's natural curiosity about the world, and natural desire to learn become the motivating factor in education." As parents, our job is to guide and help our children as they pursue their interests at their own pace according to their unique abilities. Children are natural learners, and they want to learn about the world they live in. So if their lives are rich in learning possibilities, great books, and parents that care, children will absorb all the information around them like a sponge.
Unschooling was the turning point in our homeschool journey, but there have been many twists in the road along the way. We managed to survive toddlerhood with the next three children. They even all learned to read! We've homeschooled through Grandma's serious illness that has lasted for the past five years. We've homeschooled through two years that I worked outside the home, because of bad financial decisions. We've homeschooled through learning disabilities and many other curve balls that were thrown our way. Each year ends much the same. I sit and ponder how far we've come since the year before, and I realize that no matter how side-tracked I become during the year . . . the children keep on learning.
As I watch how far we've come on our journey, I know without a doubt that learning to relax and enjoy our time together not only saved our homeschooling adventure but added a whole new dimension to our lives. Our children have learned all the basics, and so much more. They enjoy many hobbies and activities that they wouldn't be able to enjoy if we were tied down to a curriculum time table. It also allowed me to overcome the guilt of not being perfect, so that I could enjoy the many years of homeschooling that we have had and the many years I hope we can share in the future. This is a season in my life that I really wish could last forever!