I was pretty excited at the thought of homeschooling, because I thought I would have the opportunity to learn with my children. And in truth it is very exciting to be on hand for so many of their explorations and discoveries. (Last week at the grocery store, they discovered a spider dangling from a web and spent a few minutes playing with it and seeing how touching the web affected the spider's movements--hands on bio and physics.)
But it has been a disappointing reality that none of my children have been that interested in studying in the "normal" academic way or the "normal" subjects. Perhaps a large part of that is because we've had so many years of deschooling that our homeschool education looks completely different than "regular" school. Another part of it might be that spending so much time sitting and so much time on frontal teaching/lecture and so much time studying things that the children find utterly boring is no longer part of our repertoire. And taking the step into unschooling brought us even further. In homeschooling, a big goal is to make learning pleasant. But in unschooling, if the children don't want to learn it, they don't. So while all battles about math and Chumash and history have ceased, that also means that my children aren't acquiring the usual skills and information.
I can talk myself down about that. I know that what they are getting instead is
- an extremely integrated sense of learning and life
- a positive attitude towards learning and a long lasting curiosity
- the confidence that any time they want to learn anything in life, it's a good time to start learning it
- the resourcefulness to look things up and ask for help in learning what they want or acquiring the skills and understanding they seek
- a tendency towards creativity and joie de vivre
But a part of me mourns that they won't learn standard multiplication and division (unless they want to). They won't read a good selection of the classics (though I always felt that high school was too young to understand a lot of them). They won't have a sense of history (unless they study it). They won't have an encyclopedic knowledge of halacha and Tanach. Things that I consider "basic knowledge" they eschew and blithely tell me they can google. They might end up with any of this. But ultimately, a lot of their education is in their own hands and the particulars of what they pursue are not my decision.
I know that in removing the long and involved curriculum (that bores the bejeebers out of many students), we have made space for play, for joy, for contemplating, for deep thinking, for hands on learning, for emotional development, for pursuing interests, for delving into unusual topics, and for learning about the world in a deeply personal, enthusiastic, and individualistic way that naturally tailors itself to the student's needs and abilities.
But sometimes I think about the "standard" curriculum: Tefila, bekius, Jewish history, a tremendous amount of time studying Chumash and Nach and Mishna and Gemara. And history and Lit. and math and Science.
And I wish I could teach my kids that, and feel a bit sad, and take some time to feel the ache before I move on.
I have long felt that the only way to succeed in homeschooling without going crazy from overwhelmedness, anxiety, or guilt, is to get very clear about your priorities and your goals. Then focus on those and let the rest go. I've been practicing that for over a decade and a half. And I will continue to practice.