The gift of time

Last night I ran into a dad whose eldest had started homeschooling as a pre-teen and is now in her first year of college. I asked how she was doing. “Great,” he replied. “Homeschooling really saved her. It gave her the time to pursue what she really wanted to do.”

I nodded. The advantages of homeschooling are many, but if I had to distill them into one word, it would be time. I know that my kids, like my friend’s daughter, benefitted hugely from the simple availability of time.

As little children, they had time to play, spending hour after hour with blocks, with books, with paint and pencil and paper, with music, with cooking, with our ducks, with the beach and the park and the woods. Passions showed up early, some obviously, some more subtly.

By the time my son was a teenager, he loved critters and folk music. He spent time reading as much as he could about animals, especially mustelids (the weasel family) and birds. He developed relationships with adult birders in the area and went on weekend outings with them. He soaked up their knowledge, while they appreciated the sharpness of his young eyes and his enthusiasm for something they loved. He landed a job at the science museum’s live animal center, doing everything from cleaning cages to feeding the snakes to holding the great horned owl for educational programs. He spent hours at the nearby folk music club, listening to music and developing relationships with the musicians and the employees before becoming a music teacher and performer there himself.

Similar stories could be told about my other children, whose time led them to pursuits including jazz, psychology, theater, and Shakespeare.

When we think about this, it makes perfect sense. Don’t we all benefit from having time to do what we love? Doesn’t thatallow us to improve, to discover, to evolve, and to learn?

Giving our kids the gift of time doesn’t just fulfill their hearts and minds. Along the way, they learn valuable skills. Having available time means figuring out how to fill and manage it, so kids become self-sufficient instead of dependent on waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They learn to prioritize, to say yes to what’s important or necessary, and say no to what isn’t for them. Down time, and time to be alone, gives kids a chance to rest, regroup, ponder, imagine, and get to know themselves.

Sometimes, the availability of time that homeschooling offers is criticized. When a homeschooler excels, people brush it off, or worse, claim unfairness, because the homeschooler had more time to devote to honing a particular skill. Yes, that’s true, and what’s wrong with that? Isn’t time to work on things they care about something we want for all kids?

Some may fear that giving children ample time to pursue their interests could take away from their learning “the basics” and hamper their ability to get into college or get jobs. The good news is that it doesn’t. The organizational, problem solving, and critical thinking skills my kids began to master through play got applied to serious studies and pursuits later on. Involvement in the community, exposure to a wide range of subjects, and observing adults in the wider world were important pieces of that process.

As I’ve observed my kids grow up, seeing how each of them uses their time has been fascinating, enlightening, and sometimes frustrating. Different people have different learning styles, after all, and one of my kids possessed a style that involved obsessive embrace of one passion, only to drop it for the next exciting endeavor on the horizon. Another child appeared to have a kind of tunnel vision, focusing intently on one interest to what appeared to be the exclusion of everything else. Neither of these approaches to learning match mine, which meant I had to open my mind to new possibilities, and hang tight to the belief that what my kids were doing was right for them. It can be hard sometimes, to trust our kids’ instincts, abilities, and competence. Society puts a lot of pressure on parents, and when we choose to homeschool, we can feel that even more. Our own schooling experiences, and social messages about how kids learn best inevitably affect how we approach homeschooling, too, but when we put those things aside, the results can sometimes seem like magic. It can be hard to believe, for instance, even as it’s happening right before our eyes, that kids can learn to read and multiply and write without the involvement of any teacher or boxed curriculum.

Through the challenges, I’ve tried my best to act as a guide and throw out ideas I think my kids might not have thought of while taking a deep breath and trusting them. I’ve given them the time, after all, to know themselves, and I’ve found that also means they know when to reach out and ask for help. They know the value of time, its gifts, its challenges, and its limitations. And that, like time itself, is precious.

This article first appeared in The Homeschooler Post.

Pledging allegiance to civics

The other day my teenage daughter and I attended the inauguration of our city’s school committee, city council, and new mayor Stephanie Muccini Burke. It was a festive occasion, and an exciting one for many reasons, including the presence of our attorney general, Maura Healey, and the surprise appearance of our senator, Elizabeth Warren.

burke

At the beginning of the event, we all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I looked at my daughter, who smiled at me as she stood in silence, and I realized that after all these years, I’d failed to teach her the pledge, or expose her to it regularly enough that she’d memorized it in its entirety.

It’s not as though this is a problem. A young woman who has entire Shakespeare plays etched into her brain wrinkles can learn the Pledge of Allegiance in about thirty seconds. This minor educational omission did get me thinking about patriotism and civics, though.

Simply defined, patriotism is love of country, something we can embrace without knowing the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. For those of us that learned it as children and said it every day in school, did we ever think about the meaning of the words (providing we learned them accurately, which many didn’t). I certainly didn’t know, for instance, that Francis Bellamy, the author of the pledge, was a socialist.

As homeschooling parents, we didn’t implement the daily ritual of standing before the flag and reciting the pledge. We focused on civics, the duties of being a citizen, rather than patriotism. We volunteered at soup kitchens, attended community meetings, researched issues and candidates, voted, and contributed where we could.

Our kids’ lives may not have been steeped in American flags and the Pledge of Allegiance, but they did learn the value of being involved in their community and participating in their democracy.

So, while it’s true that my daughter couldn’t recite the Pledge along with most of the rest of the room, she was present as someone who has volunteered at the local library, for LGBTQ support organizations, and arts groups. She was present as someone who volunteered for the campaign of the new mayor, the first woman ever elected to the office in our city. She was present as someone who attended debates, meetings, and other campaign events, and someone who looks forward with excitement to being able to finally vote.

This kind of civic involvement is, I think, close enough to the spirit of the pledge and its calls for liberty and justice for all, so I’ll let myself off the hook for omitting its memorization from our curriculum.