A couple of weeks ago, my oldest daughter and I toured the local Catholic school.
She wanted to see a school in action. She had not set foot in one since she was a bitty babe and her older brother was in 1st grade. This whole school thing seemed like a mystical, scary place.
At least to hear her brother tell of it.
And she wondered, “Maybe, just maybe I would be happier in school.”
There were many frustrations behind that single thought, but I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of why my child was thinking about going to school or why I myself thought that maybe it might actually be the right choice for her.
That would go too deeply into her private life and it’s not my place to share that with you. Let’s leave it at: there have been some interpersonal struggles and it was thought that maybe giving the kids a break from each other would be a good thing.
What I am going to talk about my perceptions and how visiting that school changed the way I feel about educating my children at home. It opened my eyes in a way that nothing else could have. I had a lightning bolt realization.
My homeschool had too much school in it.
The need to get stuff done or stick to the plan had sapped the joy right out of our days.
Let me tell ya something folks---you can’t duplicate school at home, even if you want to. I never really wanted to, but as school is what I knew best from my own educational experience, it was very easy to fall into a pattern of preplanned lessons, evenly divided reading assignments, and all that jazz.
Now, you can duplicate some of school.
The worksheets. The sitting at a desk all day. The raising your hand to go to the bathroom. The needing to finish this book by the end of the week or answering all the questions right. Moving on to the next grade in the fall.
You can do what needs to be done.
Yes. You can do all that, even at home.
But it would be harder (maybe not impossible, but harder) to have a half-dozen teenagers meet with the author of the book they are reading over skype and talk about it with her
It would be harder to have a huge aquarium full of tiny trout you had raised from eggs, monitoring their development before releasing them back into the wild.
It would be harder (maybe not impossible, but it would take a lot of work) to organize a huge science fair with several dozen different participants demonstrating their curiosity of the world and their understanding of scientific method.
I can beat the tiny library/media center---I can almost do that with just the volumes I have at home, but a trip to the public library would definitely do it.
But there are some things I can’t do at home and that a school can definitely do better.
I cannot beat the school at its own game.
It is possible to kill a love of learning whether at home or at school, with the right circumstances---some schools do a fantastic job of supporting the quest for knowledge and some homeschools succeed in squelching that quest.
I wouldn’t describe my efforts as fantastic, nor as squelchtastic--- but it became clear to me that there was definitely room for improvement.
Granted, schools are different everywhere and the local Catholic school is very different from the local public school. It’s even different from the Catholic school my oldest attended several states away.
But I’ve gotten the impression from many homeschoolers, both online and in real life, that there’s this general idea that we’ve got school beaten hands down. Even if we do what they do in school, we’re delivering a superior experience for our kids.
I think that many homeschoolers are deluding themselves.
What I came to realize as I walked those halls was that I didn’t measure up.
I couldn’t measure up. Not if I wanted to have school at home.
I could see all my shortcomings in that department. Exactly what I can’t offer or could only offer with a great deal of difficulty and money I just don’t have.
It’s a good thing that I’m not trying to recreate school at home, isn’t it?
It took me a few days of restless reflection and nail-biting (almost) to reach my equilibrium. I came to see all the things that I am able to offer that the schools in the area can’t. The things I have been offering from the beginning.
But here’s the thing---I had gotten a bit sidetracked. My head had gotten turned by shiny curricula and glib articles on education. I was all trembly over the thought of having a high schooler (my oldest) on my hands next year. And what we’re doing wasn’t reflecting the direction I wanted to take us in.
Seeing the similarities between our home learning and what they were doing in school was a valuable experience for me.
It energized me a bit---I’ve been busy and the blog has been a bit quiet.
So, did my daughter decide to go to school?
No. As impressive as the school was, she decided that she wanted more freedom than she could have there.
Freedom to wear the clothes she wants.
Freedom to skip down the hall.
Freedom to crochet while I’m reading to her about ancient Rome.
Freedom to pursue her own interests after she’s completed her “scheduled” studies for the day.
But we also talked about how we could improve things around here. We’ve been doing a lot of art lately.
Doing art. Not studying art.
As the weather warms up and dries out, there will be more opportunities outside.
But the best part is probably that I’m learning to lighten up and take my own advice---learning is a lifelong journey, y’all! You don’t have to do it all at once.
Have you visited your local school? What did you learn there?