In 1995 I was a ski instructor at a resort that schools sent their students to, for lessons. The classes were structured and routine. The personality of each school revealed itself on the slopes. Some school’s kids were boisterous, others orderly and a rare few, were inclusive. Kids are kids, but it was easy to predict what kind of day we were going to have according to the schools out for the day.
There was this one real oddball group that didn’t seem to fit in my defined notion of school personalities. In fact, they were outrageous to teach; they were homeschoolers! All the other groups had some of the basic ‘rules’ ingrained into their psyche. Once at the top of the slope I could command, “Follow me, and when I stop form a line” and it was done. BUT the homeschoolers were mayhem! “Follow me” was not in their vocabulary and as far as forming a line was concerned, they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
At first I dreaded the homeschoolers. I had to be much more creative as a teacher. They shifted me out of routine and into thinking. Teaching them forced me to move from methodology into adventure.
Over time, I was drawn to become more involved with the homeschoolers. At the time, I was feeling desperate; my children were young, my life was stressful, I had no direction, and no respect! Here is my story.
My oldest son had many difficulties in school. He was the class scapegoat and had been since kindergarten. Frustrated, he would withhold retaliation at school, wait until he reached home and found his little brother. I began hanging around school almost every day of the week just to keep the environment safe for him.
By the time he was in grade five I had concluded the time I spent at school, could be spent at home in a more nurturing and supportive environment. At Christmas I proposed the idea and he was overjoyed.
“Really, I can stay home? I don’t have to go to school?” “Yes” was the answer and he went to his room and played ‘happy’ songs all afternoon.
He homeschooled two and a half years. I tried to cram curriculum down his throat, we locked heads and I sent him back to school for grade eight. He became a self-assigned ambassador for other scapegoats and his grades were good. Homeschooling had been a good thing.
For grade nine he changed schools and moved to his fathers home. The peer pressure was overwhelming, and to fit in, he resorted to drugs and alcohol. I managed to talk his father into letting him leave school again and return to a homeschooling approach; he was failing grade ten anyway. We had some healing work to do. Now at 24, he is a trained Shiatsu Massage Therapist and an Oracle reader, well on his way to self-discovery.
My middle boy was a total different story. He homeschooled two years, for completely different reasons. His method of survival in the system was to act the bully. I was shocked at the way he treated other children, for I knew this was not his true nature. Authorities tried to convince me he was ADHD. I saw him as a typical little boy who liked to move, a lot. He still does. I took him out of school and my son’s gentle soul returned.
He too, moved to his father’s home and reentered the school system for grades eight and nine. His marks were poor, books made great goal posts and his favourite subjects were physical education and recess. I told his Dad to take him out of school until he got serious; realizing that school was a privilege. For grade ten, we put him in private hockey school. That worked, although he missed his family. He completed grades eleven and twelve at Carihi High School becoming Prime Minister of student council.
At age twenty, he moved to Toronto and couldn’t figure out where all the kids his age were. He has a job in construction working with people ten and twenty years older than he is. Now he can’t understand why anyone would waste their time in school when they don’t really know what they want. My son believes he knows more about life and survival in the ‘real’ world than most people his age. At twenty-two, he has just completed his training for his pilots license, fully paid for, by himself, and is now heading towards his commercial license.
I learned a lot, keeping my oldest boys at home. When I moved to Quadra Island, I was influenced by an even more radical form of education. I met families who embrace the idea that a child WANTS to learn. It is an inherent inclination, embedded in all of us as humans. If we provide a rich environment, paying attention to our children’s natural interests and trusting their guidance, we, as parents, can become active leaders in their evolving and rewarding development.
My third son was mostly “unschooled”, which takes great courage and trust in a process so radically different from the norm. I did run him through a math program, but as far as reading is concerned, I read and he listened, every day. At ten years old he and a buddy were hiking the trails and my son said, “What does that sign say?” The other “unschooled” boy replied, “I don’t know, I can’t read.” My son said, “Oh, neither can I.” It was no big deal!
One morning, later that year, my son came bounding up the stairs from his room with a Harry Potter book in his hands, joyfully claiming, “I can read, I can read! Watch me, I can read!” The light bulb came on and he was ready to read. (There is so much to share about the different developmental stages of mental growth but not enough space in this article). After reading the Harry Potter series, he moved onto Lord of the Rings. Now, at 17 he shares historical novels with my husband.
I tried every spelling program I could think of, but had learned from my first two sons, when we begin to butt heads, it is time drop the program. It wasn’t until he was 12, that he gained an interest in spelling, as MSN communication became important to him.
As his guide, I listened to his lead and exposed him to areas of interest. I created some basic rules: that he bike for transportation, must be involved in a sport of some sort, and take music lessons of any kind. He also must be a contributor to family through chores and, learn to make money. He had his first job as a grocery clerk at age 14 and was making more money than some of my adult friends. Theatre arts became a growing passion and to date, is his vision for the future.
When he turned 15 years old, he wanted to see what most kids were doing, so he enrolled in Carihi for grade ten. He was determined to fit in, without losing his sense of self. He endured six months of constant bullying and name-calling, until, hats off to the principle, teachers, counselors and ferry captain, it finally stopped. His uniqueness is fully intact; he is passionate and has a dream. To his shock, adults and kids in the system insist he have a back-up plan to his dream. He counters, “Why would I plan for failure?”
I invite you to consider your options. One of my most influential mentors taught me that true learning begins when a child is bored. It is not until this moment that children start thinking for themselves and begin learning to solve their own problems; discovering HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
An excellent resource is the BC Homeschool Association: HYPERLINK “http://www.bchomeschool.net” www.bchomeschool.net/ and books such as “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” by Grace Llewellyn.
I think believing in, and trusting my sons with the choices they made for themselves, is an important part of their self-confidence and personal growth. They know, as I do, education is a continual process and there are no blocks to the future. Their step-dad got his forestry degree at forty-nine. When our sights are on our dreams and desires, the world conspires to support us. Life takes its twists and turns; there is no static, right way to live, and to live today fully, is to live naturally.
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