Homeschooling: Falling Behind or Falling in Love?
It's taken almost two years for my daughter to fall back in love with learning. I guess she never fell out of love with it entirely but she struggled to engage with the print-rich, high-volume, fast-paced classroom environment. They say it takes as long to fall out of love with somebody as it takes to fall in love. I think the same is true for learning. Those first two years after Kindergarten, my daughter began to realize that play and time outdoors were not the core priority for her day and her little heart broke. So, in Grade 3 we just did it - we jumped into homeschooling and after almost two years... she has fallen back in love with learning and it's mended my heart.
When I began to work as a homeschool consultant to help parents balance the pedagogical needs of their family with the requisite reporting of the Quebec Ministry of Education, I was surprised at how often I heard parents use the word "falling." The phrase, "I just don't want him to fall behind" is very common right now among communities of parents who are homeschooling due to the pandemic.
Veteran homeschoolers will often ask, "falling behind whom?" - making sure to add the "m" on the end - and with a little knowing smirk that they haven't yet created an emoji for - but a wink seems to give the basic gist. The idea that each child is unique and that falling behind is a cultural construct of the industrial revolution is a given for most pre-pandemic parent educators.
Ok, well, before we get too smug, let's be very aware that for a large segment of Covid-Schoolers, the answer to "falling behind whom?" is very real and very worrisome. This particular segment of parents - the same who had become accustomed to reading report cards with care - can't stand to imagine their children not keeping up with their peers within a particular grade level. Wasn't this grade level assigned to them with their first breath? Didn't it become a given eventuality the moment they emerged from the vagina and date of birth was announced? This grade level means something very real to the majority of parents. It means: appropriate socialization, knowing the right things, getting a good job. And this is true even for parents who themselves were bullied at school, hated French class, and work in careers that make them miserable. So what on earth is going on here exactly?
It's natural. Fear and anger during a pandemic are absolutely legitimate responses to crisis situations. We are angry that our children are unable to go to school and we are afraid that when they go back they will be deficient in some way. I say "we" because, despite being a pre-pandemic homeschooler, I often feel this way too. I should mention that we are hybrid homeschoolers. My son is in a local Kindergarten program that he adores and I spend my days with my eldest daughter. I was a public school teacher, I send my youngest to public school and I sometimes get completely freaked out that I've made the wrong. damn. decision. I have to remind myself regularly that she is getting the one on one learning experience she absolutely lacked at school but there are days where "meeting her where she's at" feels way too slow and uncertain.
Deep breath. These are the moments I remind myself of a different set of questions I started to ask my clients when they pose the dreaded "falling behind" question. I no longer turn to the tried and true "behind whom?" argument. Instead, I ask:
"When your child was in school...
...were you afraid your child would fall behind in her imagination?
...were you afraid she was behind in her time spent in nature?
...were you afraid that he was behind in being able to read quietly in a cozy spot on his own?
...were you afraid she would fall behind in learning a musical instrument or watercolour arts?
... were you worried he would not be able to craft objects or grow a garden?
...were you worried not enough time was devoted to practices like yoga and meditation?"
Because they were and still are - behind that is. Public school kids are most definitely behind in all these areas. Big time. Daydreaming, outdoor exploration, quiet reflection, arts, handwork, cultivation and mindfulness are not the priority of the public school system. And I believe this is why so many of our kids are falling out of love with the classroom. In turn, so many parents are disappointed with a style of learning that has begun to lose its way, its heart, its imagination, its connection to community and wisdom.
It's almost been a year since the Covid-19 virus sent us into lockdown and got many of us thinking about homeschooling for the first time. At this juncture we have two choices:
1. We can look backward squinting and seeking for our child in the "dust of their peers" and worrying that they are falling behind or...
2. We can look closely into the eyes of our children and watch them falling in love with themselves, with the sky above them, with their siblings, with their learning and with us - yes us! You! Their parent! After all, it's you who decided to bring them on this journey into a new future! One where their heads are encouraged to question existing defunct structures, one where their hearts are motivated to connect with community, and one where their hands are inspired to reshape the very world around them.
It is nothing less this that you are doing for your children. Nothing less than this. And if this is still not enough to quell your fear and quiet your worried mind, then those of us who have fallen in love with learning and our children all over again will call to you over our shoulders. We will wave you forward, "Hey! Keep up slow poke! The path ahead looks bright and full of unknown wonders!"