This afternoon I walked home from art class with my three children. It has been snowing steadily for several days and we took our time as we walked, chatting and stopping to take pictures of cool snow sculptures along the way. I asked the usual questions: How was class? Did you finish that project from last week? Who was there today? As Janey, my oldest, answered, she explained that the art teacher needed them to clean up and leave on time because she had another class coming in at 3:30pm. "You know, Mom, she has a class of real kids after us. Real kids, who go to real school, you know." I stopped dead in my tracks. We looked at each other and then burst into big, huge, belly laughs. I did know exactly what she meant, and it got me thinking about how profound that statement really was.
In a way, homeschooled kids really are often perceived to not be "real" kids. They are around a lot and can be found doing all kinds of adult-type things during the hours of 8am-3pm Monday through Friday. Grocery stores, libraries, thrift stores, art studios, movie theaters, the YMCA, museums, bookstores, you name it, we're there. And more often than not, when we are, my kids get asked why they aren't in school. Real kids spend their days at school. Real kids don't hesitate before telling a store clerk what grade they're in. Real kids know the Pledge of Allegiance. Real kids have homework to do before they can come out and play. Real kids understand the meaning of an F and what detention is.
But to me, this notion holds about as much water as the idea that school is important because it prepares a child for "real life". That has always cracked me up. Which life is being referred to, exactly? How could any life not be real? Aren't we all living real life, right now? I used to hate it when teachers in high school would warn us that if we didn't use proper footnotes on our research papers or write a complete 5 paragraph essay, we'd never survive in the"real" world. What? Excuse me? The bottom line for me, as an unschooling mom, is that my children are indeed very real. They are living real lives every single day, complete with real thoughts and real feelings and real opinions, all the time. As a matter of fact, so are children who go to school. How could they not be? We are all real, we just choose to live it in different ways.
I have a homeschooling friend who believes that we each have an obligation to find out what brings us joy and to pursue it. How real is that? I love this idea and agree with her whole heartedly. I like the idea that as homeschooling parents, we are like detectives. As unschoolers, we have the time to try out lots of new things. Karate, gymnastics, ballet, painting, soccer, piano, singing, theater. Each new activity gives away a clue. Does she enjoy performance? How does he respond to structure? Will she thrive with one on one instruction? Does he enjoy team sports? We spend our days navigating the world with our children, seeking out the joy. Noticing what energizes them, makes them feel alive, and in turn, we guide them toward those activities in an effort to support their self worth and sense of place in this world. The real world. In the midst of all this attention to the various interests and needs of my children, my friend reminds me, I have the same responsibility to myself. What brings me joy? How real can I be, if I am not seeking out joy for myself? And what better way to teach this important goal to my children, than by example?
Sandra Dodd advises us, as parents, to approach parenting our children from a very basic starting point. She recommends we ask our children, and in turn, ourselves: "Who do you want to be, and why?" It doesn't get much more real than that.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 11, Macy, 9 and Charley, 7) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a Homeschooling Consultant, offering support and guidance to families looking to clarify their vision as a family of learners. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at homeschoolconsultant@gmailcom.