‘Unschoolers’ launch day

Dear Readers,

My co-author Sophia Sayigh and I have been working on Unschoolers for a while and I’m delighted to announce that it’s available now.

unschoolers-front

Visit our website for various ways you can purchase the book in e-book and paperback formats. I hope you’ll consider spreading the word among your friends in conversation, on e-lists, or via social media.  Perhaps you’ll even feel moved to rate the book or write a review.

I welcome direct communication, too. Drop me a line and let me know what you think! Thanks, as always!

On depriving kids of screens

“Deprive” is such a loaded word.

It came up this week in an online thread about technology, a long and winding discussion in response to a mom expressing concern about allowing her child unlimited screen time.

Many unschoolers feel that limiting screen time does not mesh with unschooling philosophy, and said so. I shared my own story, about limiting screens via lifestyle choices my husband and I made.

We don’t have a television. We made the decision to get rid of it when my son was nearly ten and my younger daughters weren’t born yet. We did have computers but back then they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now, and my daughters didn’t gravitate to them.

They spent most of their time with books, music, art supplies, dress up, and the great outdoors. We read to them often, cooked together, went to the park, walked in the woods, biked around town. We took them to plays, concerts, outdoor festivals. They tagged along to our adult activities such as community meetings, my husband’s band rehearsals, and even my job.

Yesterday, under my comment describing our choice to limit screens in our lives, someone used the word “deprive.” Technology is the tool of our kids’ generation, and she wouldn’t want to deprive her child of that tool.

Did I bristle? Yes, indeed. When we are told we are depriving our children, it touches something deep in the parental psyche. Fortunately, this time it was a brief twinge. My kids are grown, and I’m past the point of caring all that much.

Despite not having been brought up with television, smart phones, or regular computer use as young children, my kids are quite comfortable with technology. By the time they were teens they acquired their own computers and smart phones, and had little trouble figuring out how to get what they wanted from them, which included, in my son’s case, building websites for his various pursuits.

When my kids were younger, it wasn’t uncommon to deal with judgment about our choice not to have television. My mother used the word “deprive.” Some unschoolers did, too. As homeschoolers, we were used to being judged. We felt good about our choices, but in a culture that scrutinizes parents and holds them responsible for how their kids “turn out,” insecurity is difficult to escape.

Which is one reason “deprive” is such a loaded word. It reeks of judgment, and goes right to vulnerabilities many parents feel, particularly those who are making unconventional choices. Homeschoolers and unschoolers tend to have strong opinions. I don’t exclude myself from that characterization, but sometimes I think the vociferous way those opinions can be expressed is, ironically, part of the defense mechanism we develop against being judged ourselves. We are, after all, “depriving” our children of one of the cornerstones of our society–school.

The result can be that homeschoolers and unschoolers spend as much time judging each other as society spends judging their choices, and that’s too bad, because what we need from each other is support.

Support is what helps empower people to create the lives they want. For us, that life was one without a plethora of screens, but our kids got other things. It wasn’t a matter of depriving–rather, to us, it was about giving. I’m sure that’s also what it’s about for the mom who wants to provide her kids with technology, and that’s just fine with me.

Unschooling is about trusting our kids’ innate ability to learn, but as anyone who’s done it knows, it’s also about finding what works for your family. The more we can support each other in that process, the better.

 

 

Not back to school time, again

The nights are getting cooler, our first butternut squashes from the garden have been picked, apples are showing up at my local farmers’ market. Fall is coming, the season of mists and yellow fruitfulness, to quote John Keats.

It’s the season of the bittersweet, harvests of plenty, and the last gasps of beauty and fullness before the frost of winter. In our society, the season has been forever changed by the onset of school. Whatever we feel about school, the end of August is inextricably linked to it. As Dar Williams put it in song, The summer ends and we wonder who we are.

Who we are , is homeschoolers. For us, fall is not back to school time, as it has been for so many years.

Wait. Have I got that exactly right? My 19-year-old is going back to school, after all–to her sophomore year at college. My 17-year-old just went to the first of her three self-chosen community college classes last night, and will probably enroll in college next year, which makes this homeschooling year particularly bittersweet for me.

I’ve been involved in homeschooling for a quarter century. It was the way I chose to educate my own four children, but along the way I organized field trips, hosted potlucks, published newsletters (pre-internet), moderated my support group’s Yahoo list, helped found a statewide non-profit advocacy organization (Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts), and led writing workshops.

I still volunteer for AHEM, and I still lead writing workshops. I love working with kids in an environment with no curriculum frameworks, no grades, and no pressure to perform on standardized or other tests. Watching kids learn and grow in this way is a privilege and a blessing for which I’m ever grateful.

Homeschooling has changed radically since I first dipped my toes into the waters, in ways that make me wonder how my own homeschooling would play out if I were starting today. I hope that families are still discovering the value of that organic process of learning, and the rewards of kicking back and enjoying a slow homeschooling lifestyle.

I know I am.

Making our own kind of music

Every so often I hear people ask the question, how do you unschool music? How do you learn music without lessons or instruction?

First off, unschooling doesn’t mean you can’t have a teacher, use instructional materials, or undertake any other kind of traditional study. By the same token, those methods aren’t necessarily required to learn music. The trick is to foster appreciation for music, support whatever involvement in music your kids choose, and keep the joy and creativity in music making alive.

All four of my kids are musical in different ways. Kid one leaned toward the singer-songwriter world, number two embraces traditional folk, number three is a devoted jazz fan and vocalist, and number four likes classical best, although she also enjoys playing klezmer with her dad.

Below are some ideas for how to nurture musical intelligence in your kids.

Exposure First and foremost, expose your kids to many different kinds of music. There are plenty of excellent recordings made expressly for kids. By all means, enjoy them, but play other music, too. As young children my kids loved Bob Dylan, Beethoven, The Beatles, Queen, other more obscure bands, and many kinds of ethnic music. Don’t just listen to music around the house, go hear live music, too. I really can’t overestimate the importance of exposure to music. My daughter is a perfect example. Our kids regularly attended classical, folk, and world music concerts, but we didn’t go hear jazz very often, or listen to it much at home. That all changed when somehow, Ella Fitzgerald found her way onto the family mp3 player when my daughter was 11. She fell in immediate, absolute, obsessive love. Within months she had listened to and learned Ella’s entire canon, mostly by taking her CDs out of the library, and today is an accomplished, primarily self-taught jazz vocalist.

Modeling If you want your kids to learn about and love music, do it yourself. My husband is a musician, so our kids witnessed the joys of making music on a regular basis, as well as the necessity of practice. I’m an amateur singer and the kids listened to me practice choral music they later heard in performance. Even if you don’t want to pick up an instrument or sing, you can still model music appreciation through listening and enjoying music yourself.

Make music together Since learning to listen is one of the most important aspects of making music, this is pretty important. One of the things our family did when the kids were little was sing in an inter-generational chorus. We also performed in inter-generational theatrical productions. If those kinds of commitments are more than you can handle, try seeking out (or organizing) low-key events like sing-a-longs, or folk, blues, or jazz jams. If classical music appeals, there’s plenty of simple chamber music your kids can try with you or some friends. Ditto for rock and roll.

Find mentors No matter the undertaking, whenever my kids felt passionate about something, they found a mentor. With music, there’s no reason that person can’t be a teacher, especially if your child asks for lessons. All our kids took lessons on various instruments at one point or another, and were free to quit if their interest waned. Sometimes mentors are more like idols–masters your kids might never meet but nevertheless become huge influences, much like Ella Fitzgerald was for my daughter. My son found some of his musical heroes on YouTube, mandolin players like Chris Thiele and singers like Tony Cuffe.

A word about practice This is a controversial subject, especially for unschoolers who might feel that “making” their kids practice is anathema. Because our family takes financial commitments like music lessons seriously, and because my husband, as a musician and music teacher himself, understands the vital role of practice in playing music, we did require our kids to practice as long as we were paying for music lessons they wanted. This doesn’t have to be a rigid endeavor. Since the lessons were chosen by the kids, practicing mostly happened naturally, but if it didn’t, we discussed the issue and negotiated agreements that worked for all. How practice works is going to look different in every family, but the key thing is to not squash a love of music by forcing the issue.

Resources Make instruments readily accessible to the extent it’s possible. If you can get your hands on a piano, guitar, or any other instrument, have them in your home. Inexpensive wind instruments like recorders or penny whistles are great to have around, and easy to play. Don’t discount percussion–rhythm is a huge part of music, and real or makeshift drums can be loads of fun. Whatever instruments you collect, let your kids experiment with them freely. Make CDs, records, downloaded music, or whatever technology you use to listen to music accessible, and offer a wide variety of music. When you go to the library, check out music in addition to books. Be musically curious, open-minded, and experimental, and most likely, your kids will be, too.

Have ideas or stories about unschooling music? Please share them in the comments section!

What are you doing this summer?

We all have them, right? Summer memories of lazy days, popsicles, swimming, pick-up games of tag or kickball, and oodles of fun.

Well, maybe we don’t all have them, especially since summer has become just another season for scheduling stuff. These days, when people ask What are your kids doing this summer? the answers generally include multiple kinds of classes, day camps, sleepaway camps, or other programs designed to help keep kids from getting bored, driving their parents crazy, or-heaven forbid-having nothing to do.

campingyay 051Lately, I’m even reading about camps designed to appeal to people like me, people who unschool their kids. Yes, there are camps now that advertise themselves as places for self-directed learners. You can sign up to send your kid to a camp where they get to choose what they do all day, experience community, and learn to be themselves.

The reality, of course, is that no special program is needed for such an experience. Unschooling offers it every day, regardless of the season.

I remember looking forward to summers when my kids were small.

We gathered with other families at the beach, where the kids spent hours building sandcastles, frolicking in the water, hunting for shells, and finding tiny hermit crabs.

We took regular hikes at our local nature reservation, observing the plants, searching out wild edibles, and picking wild blueberries that we enjoyed in pancakes, jam, and pies.

We biked to the lake near our house, where we swam, hung out with friends, and picked black raspberries for snacking.

For vacation, we visited family in Northern Virginia, checking out Monticello and Mount Vernon, exploring Luray Caverns, hiking at local state parks, and playing with cousins. Or we went camping, exploring nature trails, beating the heat at the pond, biking to the ice cream shop, walking on the sandy ocean bottom at low tide.

When my kids got older, they sometimes signed up for summer programs connected to their special interests, but until they became teenagers those were a small part of the fabric of summer life.

While articles about and links to learning centers, camps, and other structured programs directed at homeschoolers, unschoolers, and “self-directed learners” continue to pop up in my news feeds and inbox, I was relieved to see an antidote that appeared recently on Huffington Post. It’s by Pam Lobley, and it’s titled How I Slowed My Family Down. Like, to the Last Century.

“When the kids are little,” she says, “simply being together and enjoying the passage of time can be the best way to enjoy the hottest months.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

The boy with the boulder

Many years ago, when my eldest daughter was in public school kindergarten and I was helping out in the classroom, I witnessed the following exchange between the teacher and a boy who had brought in a special object for show-and-tell.

Boy (holding up his smooth round rock proudly): “This is my boulder.”

Teacher: “You mean, it’s your rock.”

Boy: “No, it’s my boulder.”

Teacher: “A boulder is much bigger. That’s a rock.”

As I observed the crushed look on the boy’s face, I inwardly cringed. Clearly, the kid knew the difference between a rock and a boulder. Clearly, something else was going on, something the teacher, perhaps due to her mandate to “educate,” completely missed.

I was reminded of this incident this morning upon reading a 2013 article in New Scientist, about the wisdom of beginning schooling before age seven. In a discussion of the importance of play in learning, the author states, “…much of children’s play involves pretending that one thing represents another, for example that a cardboard box is a space ship. This ability is thought to be unique to humans and underpins language, drawing and other ways in which we convey meaning.”

That poor kid in my daughter’s kindergarten class was just pretending; profoundly pretending; pretending in order to understand the world, imbue it with meaning, and to develop into an engaged, creative person with intellectual flexibility and a love of learning. Too bad the teacher squashed it.

Although I’d moved to a city with one of the top school districts in my state, the incident with the boy and his boulder was one of many that made me question what kind of education I wanted for my own children, a process that led me to homeschooling.

It’s not surprising that The New Scientist article, which showed up in my Facebook feed, resurfaced now. The push toward universal preschool is strong, despite the reams of research that play is of vital importance to developing minds. While some cite research that points to the benefits of preschool, there is disagreement among scholars about how to interpret it, as discussed in this 2014 Atlantic article.

A new paper from the Brookings Institute examining models of public spending on early childhood points to another issue inextricably connected to the well-being of children and families. It states “…family support in the form of putting more money in the pockets of low-income parents produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than a year of preschool, participation in Head Start, or class size reduction in the early grades.”

That makes sense to me. Social factors such as income inequality, lack of support for new parents, the gender pay gap, and others stand to have a much larger impact on quality of life for everyone, including children. Should we make sure all children who need it have access to excellent child care and schooling? Of course, but pushing universal preschool and ignoring the bigger picture, which might include paid leave for new parents, economic security, and health care for all, is short-sighted.

Also of utmost importance is paying attention to the research on play and how children learn, and respecting their vital, creative young minds, something that becomes very difficult for teachers in an environment that measures achievement through standardized test scores.

Which brings me full circle to my original story. As the adult in the room who didn’t have to check off boxes for educational attainment, I was free to appreciate the boy with the boulder’s creative license and obvious love for his special object without having to worry about “teaching” him anything. Once I chose homeschooling, I took responsibility for my children’s education, but I could still prioritize trusting, respecting, and nurturing their innate ability and desire to learn.

That’s what I’d like for all children, regardless of how they’re educated. That boy from my daughter’s kindergarten class would be an adult now, thirty something years old. Wherever he may be, I hope he still has his boulder.

 

 

 

Homeschooling without polarization

This morning I came across a new book written by Michael Kenmore, a homeschooled adult. It purports to be a neutral analysis of homeschooling by someone with firsthand knowledge of growing up outside of school.

I really want to read the book. I think homeschooled adults can have valuable perspectives we should all look at. I remember how much I appreciated hearing the young adults in Peter Kowalke’s film Grown Without Schooling talk about their lives.

Kenmore’s book is called Homeschooling Without Harm. That doesn’t sound so neutral, but I forged ahead, anyway, and read this in the book’s intro: “In most cases, homeschooling just benefits parents—individuals who can indulge in their overprotective tendencies while convincing themselves that their children are better off because of it. In reality, these parents are probably setting their kids on a path to hate them and themselves.”

So much for neutrality. I still plan to finish Kenmore’s book, because I still think it’s important to listen to all voices, but I was dismayed when I read the blanket value judgment he made in his introduction.

About an hour later, I was talking with a homeschooling mom who said she’s afraid to send her two kids, ages 9 and 12, to the library, two blocks away from her suburban home, by themselves. She’s not afraid of attackers, predators, abductors, or other dire consequences. She’s afraid because too many people she’s heard about and known have had authorities called on them for letting their kids do things like walk to the library or the park or the grocery store.

She wants to let her kids walk to the library alone, but she knows that if she does, facing legal repercussions is a real possibility. I don’t blame her. I also have known too many families who’ve been investigated by social services for having a family bed, letting their kids play outside with no coats, and other ridiculous reasons. Most of us read about the horror show a Maryland family experienced last year because of letting their kids walk to the park. Fortunately, it all worked out fine in the end, but who wants to go through that?

How do these ideas coexist? How do we, on the one hand, argue that most homeschooling parents are overprotective for not sending their children to school (because Kenmore isn’t the only voice I’ve heard that unsubstantiated claim from), and at the same time argue that the state needs to patrol children so intensively that if they are left on their own for any brief period, their parents need to be investigated for potential neglect? When I read the website of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, I think we may be getting to the point where some people believe homeschooling parents should be investigated for neglect simply for choosing to homeschool.

My kids are mostly grown now, and I feel fortunate that I was able to exercise my right to homeschool without undue fear of investigation. The way I chose to do that might qualify as educational neglect to some, because we unschooled and didn’t pursue traditional lessons in much of anything until my kids were well beyond elementary school age. That didn’t mean, of course, that they weren’t being educated, but under strict regulations designed in accordance with the methods and approaches of traditional schooling, at any given point they may have been found lacking.

By the time they were tweens, my kids were getting themselves places on their own, either by walking or taking public transportation. The descriptor “overprotective” was actually leveled at me more than once as a pejorative, for extended nursing, family bed, and other parenting choices. Nevertheless, independence and self-reliance were always at the top of the list of my parenting and homeschooling goals.

Maybe I just convinced myself that I was achieving those goals, but I don’t think so. Rose colored glasses have never been my specialty. More to the point, I think, is the fact that there is no one single way to raise educated, independent, happy people. We can’t say that any one form of parenting or education–homeschool, public school, private school, charter school, or whatever else comes down the pike–is right for all, any more than we can say one approach to homeschooling is right for everyone.

To Kenmore’s credit, he acknowledges that homeschooling can be a good choice for some families, but he did give his book a provocative title that implies negativity, probably because he says outright that, not unlike legions of adult Americans who attended school, he hated the way in which he was educated. He also says his book is about the “right and wrong reasons to homeschool.” I’m not a fan of distilling things into “right” and “wrong,” but maybe in the age of click bait, sound bites, and viral internet memes a provocative title and introduction are necessary to sell books, and there’ll be more nuance in the pages as I go along. I hope so, because we badly need dialogue that avoids polarization.

 

 

 

 

 

Why to homeschool a 4-year-old

Today I read one of the best articles about homeschooling I’ve encountered in a long time. In How to homeschool a 4-year-old, Amy Wright Glenn discusses why and how she and her spouse homeschool.

Reading it was like taking a short walk down memory lane. When Wright Glenn talked about her son’s engagement in physical activity and creative play, I remembered the long hours my own kids spent in similar pursuits. Just last night, at a family dinner with all four of my children, my now 31-year-old daughter and 28-year-old son were reminiscing about the awesomeness of the basketball hoop that was in our driveway, and the significant amount of time they spent using it. We lived across the street from a school, and my son recalled how a couple of the neighborhood kids, seeing him intently dribbling and shooting, would sneak away during recess to join him.

Wright Glenn also talks about networking with another family in order to free up her own time for creative and professional endeavors. Similarly, our family and many others I’ve known over the years have built solid, mutually beneficial relationships that provide both practical help and meaningful connection.

Her descriptions of volunteering at the local senior center with her kids reminded me of our venturing to Food Not Bombs with our young daughters, taking them to Mystic River clean-ups, and eliciting their help in working at various events in their community. As they grew older, they naturally extended these building blocks of civic involvement, and on their own volunteered for organizations as varied as local museums, wildlife centers, theater companies, hospitals, and political campaigns.

As a proponent of slow homeschooling, I appreciated that Wright Glenn makes a point of prioritizing play, and ensuring that her family has plenty of free time to fill as they choose. Although I realize that many homeschooling families consider screens to be an important part of their lives, Wright Glenn offers convincing reasons for limiting them, something we achieved by simply not owning a television.

Despite research that points to the benefits of free play and less structure, our society is pushing universal preschool, testing, and standards-based education for young children. Homeschooling can offer another way. Says Wright Glenn: “As parents, it behooves us to rethink commonly held assumptions regarding schooling, custodial care of children and work life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

Why I’m Cut Out for Homeschooling

For reasons I still fail to understand, every so often some clever mommy blogger decides to write about why she doesn’t homeschool. This time the culprit is Sarah Bregel, whose latest contribution to Babble, Disney’s online parenting magazine, is titled “10 Reasons I’m Probably Not Cut Out for Homeschooling.”

The listicle is supposed to be funny, but the first sentence just made me sad: “My daughter started kindergarten this year, which means our once peaceful evenings are now marked by the constant frustration that is elementary school homework.”

My eldest is 30, and for a myriad of reasons I started homeschooling her after she spent a year in kindergarten. Back then, although the classroom wasn’t as play-oriented as I would have liked, at least there was no homework.

“But this is early education,” says Bregel, “and we simply have to keep up.” Why, I wonder? Because my five-year-old needs to compete or they’ll never “make it” in the world? I thank my lucky stars I didn’t buy into that notion.

I guess I was just cut out for homeschooling. I recognize that not everyone is, and that is just fine. In fact, it’s as it should be. People should do–and should be able to do–what works for them.

Still, while reading Bregel’s list of why she’s not cut out for it, I had the same experience I’ve had reading similar articles in the past. Her reasons for not homeschooling are, for me, reasons to homeschool. So just for fun, I rewrote her list from my point of view, once upon a time when my kids were little.

  1. My kids (along with pretty much all kids) are awesome listeners.In fact, they’re super observant and astute, even when they can’t articulate just what they’re feeling. If I say “get dressed” and they start painting the cat, it usually means they’d rather be painting the cat than going wherever it is we’re about to go. Sometimes they have to get dressed and go anyway, but at least we can talk about it.
  2. I get my “me” time. Fortunately, my homeschooled kids are self-sufficient and independent. They really like to play, and they do it quite happily, which means I get to do my thing, too. We also have plenty of friends who homeschool, so if I absolutely need to be alone I can hit up another family for support.
  3. I can eat candy whenever I want. My kids might ask for a piece, and I’m happy to share, but they wouldn’t dream of telling me to stop.
  4. I get plenty of exercise. My slow homeschooling lifestyle includes a boatload of walking–in museums, parks, the woods, the apple orchard, and plenty of other places. We often bike to the library or the park, too. If I want to pull out one of my exercise videos, I simply do it while the kids are playing. Sometimes they even join me!
  5. I don’t have the patience of a saint. Dragging my kids out of bed every morning to make it to school on time, packing lunches, dealing with the fallout from stressful days at school, and making them do homework every night would send me over the edge.
  6. Distraction isn’t a problem. With everything in life being a learning opportunity, we can all follow up on whatever intrigues us.
  7. I don’t have to worry about teaching everything. In fact, all I have to do is supply a rich environment and they do most of the learning themselves. If they want or need help with something, like algebra or playing a musical instrument, and I can’t or don’t feel inclined to provide it, we can find a teacher.
  8. So much help. Dishes, cooking, cleaning, and the like? Many hands make light work. ‘Nuff said.
  9. Laundry is not a big deal. Guess what? Laundry ain’t rocket science. Kids can do their own from a very young age.
  10. All the hours in all the days. Time is one of the biggest reasons I do it. Time for them, time for me, time for us, because the biggest cliche in the world is absolutely true. Their childhoods go by fast. Really fast.

 

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.