Because we live in a marina, which is like a very small town, and we have a ton of interaction with our neighbors, we get quizzed a whole lot on what it is to be homeschoolers, mostly by people without children and without a real stake in the argument. Often, these discussions can be discharged relatively briefly, as over time we've accumulated several staunch non-parental defenders of this choice who have no qualms whatsoever about reading people the riot act over stupid, ill-thought-out questions.
I'll never forget the day that, after interacting intensely with my children for several hours at a marina BBQ function, someone asked me "but what about socialization" and was rewarded with a solid punch in the arm by a neighbor from a few docks over, who said "What are you, stupid? You've been talking to that kid for hours and he's kept you busy! Clearly, he's more socialized than you are!"
But above and beyond those sorts of questions, I have my own dark demons, as do we all, I think, about what they learn and how they learn it and if it's the "right" stuff to be learning. We are following an unschooling path, with the faith that they'll learn what they need to know as it confronts them, more effectively than having a bunch of disconnected edu-triva thrown at them.
A boat is a learning-rich environment, but does it apply? Kestrel is majoring in tool usage and boat repair. He fetches whatever Jason needs to do whatever he's doing; power tools, hand tools, rags, cleaners, keys, whatever. He's just now, at age three and a half, beginning to anticipate, and fetch the right tool before it's requested. He knows what a solenoid is and what it does. Rowan is our Monkey; he can climb the shrouds nearly to the top of the mast (that's 55 feet straight up, my friends). At six and three, neither of my boys are reading yet. But both of them can gleefully recount the stories of some of our more colorful boating moments. Does that count as "Retell a story including details"?
They both have gotten to where they understand the seriousness of certain tasks, like steerage, as you can see in the picture above, where Rowan's manning the rudder of the port hull. He's five years old in that picture. Doesn't really look it, does he? Officially, Rowan should be able to "Understand spatial relationships (top/bottom, near/far, before/behind)." I suppose that being given real responsibility to steer the family home, a 47' catamaran, is practical application of that. The fairway he's steering our boat down in that photo involves two 90-degree turns and only five feet of clearance on either side. And if he made a mistake, the results would be catastrophic to say the least. He handled it beautifully, and now, at six and a half, he routinely takes the helm in straight-sailing situations. Is that too much pressure? Or is that "Assignments should be challenging, but only enough to encourage your child to do the most he can on his own"?
So how do I get from the place where my confidence in them and my pride in their knowing of practical things trumps bystanders' demands of standard curricula, and their desire to impose that set of values on my children's learning, and my choices for their learning paths? How do I explain, in casual (?) conversation, that although it is not on the curricula, that having a stake in the tasks the family undertakes, and responsibly executing those tasks, counts for far more in a successful life than sitting down for their expected 20+ minutes of homework every day? And how do I walk the line between enough challenge, and other people's perception of "too much"? I am exhausted from living up to other people's expectations; they don't read, that's bad, they drive the boat, that's too much, they climb the mast, that's too dangerous, they watch TV, that's bad, they watch the nature channel, that's good. It's a constant balance between too much and not enough, and the constant judgment is onerous.
Perhaps life would be easier if "mind your own business and suspend your own judgment" was on someone's curriculum.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason, her sons Rowan and Kestrel, and her daughter Aurora. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The ElementalMom.