New to homeschooling? Try letting go of school

Many years ago, a few years after I started homeschooling, our favorite one-ring circus came to town. We heard that the kids of the performers homeschooled, and I thought it would be fun to connect with them. I contacted the circus and arranged for my kids and I to go to the kids’ trailer, their version of a one-room schoolhouse, after the show, and spend an afternoon with some fellow homeschoolers.

When we entered the trailer my kids were immediately directed to sit around a desk and listen to the hired teacher drone on, delivering some incredibly boring lesson. Eventually they were handed the same inane worksheets the circus kids had to complete.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

After politely staying for an hour or so, I thanked the teacher and told her we had to be going. The car ride home was a debriefing on what the heck just happened. I had been naive enough to think that homeschooling time with the circus kids would be fun, at least as much fun as it was for us.

Oh, how wrong I was.

As I see throngs of people posting notices in homeschooling groups and on employment sites, seeking teachers for their newly homebound kids, I remember the circus trailer, and the teacher hired to “educate” those kids.

Some people are seeking teachers to implement a public school curriculum. Those people are not homeschoolers, of course, but what their kids do will probably look a lot like what happened in the circus trailer.

Others are choosing to register as homeschoolers and hire a teacher to implement a curriculum they have purchased. Those situations may or may not look like the circus trailer, but I’m guessing there will be a strong resemblance.

Still others choosing to homeschool are seeking to hire someone to conceive of and carry out a creative curriculum that fosters their children’s curiosity, ideas, and interests, with plenty of hands-on projects, outdoor activity, and play. This scenario would most closely resemble what our family did, what I call slow homeschooling, save for the hired full-time help, of course.

Many, many others don’t have the luxury of choosing from these options, and are scrambling to figure out how to find and pay for child care while they work, and how to make sure their kids fulfill the obligations of their virtual curriculum (failing to do so, for public school students, can lead to serious problems that have little to do with the child’s education).

Regardless of circumstances, most parents are struggling right now to find a workable, nurturing situation for their kids.

I’ve talked to parents who are unenrolling their kids from public school because they’re worried about COVID and are not satisfied with their school’s plan to manage the risk.

I’ve talked to parents who are unenrolling their kids from public school because they believe five hours of screen time a day will be harmful for their first graders.

I’ve talked to parents who are unenrolling their kids from public school because they’ve always fantasized about homeschooling, and think now is the perfect time to take the plunge.

This latter group seems to have some knowledge of the possibilities homeschooling can offer, but most of the parents I’ve talked to, and those I see posting continuously on social media, really have no clue. They’ve been thrust into a predicament they never expected to be in, and haven’t had the time or perhaps even the inclination to do the reading, exploring, and connecting most homeschoolers do either before homeschooling or early in the process, in order to gain an understanding of the radically different paradigm homeschooling can offer.

Some people, the ones who sense or know that school ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, or the ones who threw up their hands in frustration and said enough with the online curriculum, figured it out for themselves, the way many homeschoolers do, including myself.

After pulling my six-year-old from school, I let the schoolwork-at-home go pretty quickly. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t helping my relationship with my daughter. Maybe I was just lazy, or gave up too easily, but I wasn’t going to engage in power struggles over it. It just wasn’t worth it. How bad could it get, I reasoned? I was fortunate enough to have connected with a few families (there weren’t much more than a few of us back then), who modeled this relaxed approach, reassuring me that it would be okay.

It was more than okay. When we let the schoolwork go in favor of less stress and more peace, the miracle happened. It’s no miracle, of course, but I deliberately call it that because the idea that learning can only happen in school, or under the tutelage of an expert teacher, is so deeply ingrained that many people simply cannot conceive or believe that a person can flourish without these trappings.

They can, and they do. The process, for me, was a joy to behold, and an inspiration. Transitioning from teacher to guide, thus giving my kids the freedom to learn as they chose, elicited a kind of inner freeing up for me. The more I observed my kids’ unrestricted curiosity, their unique interactions with the world around them, their unimpeded drive to discover, the more I trusted them, and in turn, the more I trusted myself.

I know this doesn’t happen for every homeschooling family, but for the many who find this magical synergy, kids are happy, parents are happy, life is good, and education happens. Which is not to say, of course, that doubt, ambivalence, and downright difficult days never happen. Of course they happen, but the foundational strength I developed as a gift of this lifestyle was enough to sustain my commitment to it even through the challenges.

I hope all families during this tremendously hard time find workable ways to live with, care for, and provide emotional, creative, and intellectual sustenance for their children. I also hope they can remain open enough to understand that part of that process might involve letting go of mostly manufactured, dire predictions about children “falling behind,” and embrace instead the opportunity inherent in this moment, of living and learning and being in the now, however kids choose to do it.

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