Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Whole Child

Over the past three years, I think I have learned more than I did in all the ten years prior.  I never expected that homeschooling would present me with the incredible opportunities it has, and while I'll admit I have learned a lot academically (or recalled much of what had been long forgotten...diagram any sentences lately?), much of what I have learned would never be found in a teacher's textbook.

Homeschooling has done something for us that might never have happened to the degree it has.  We realized that this is really important...:

Studying xrays of various vertebrates.  Yes, that is a cranium!

We all admitted that the snake was pretty cool.

But this is perhaps far more important:

What's the difference, you ask?  The first photos definitely look very "schooly"...a subject that could officially be labeled, clearly science is being taught and there is a text to go with the xrays, along with the requisite worksheets, etc.

But what about the second two photos?  School was interrupted for other activities that, at first glance, aren't classified as "real" least by some.  One of the most important things I eventually "got" was that fostering a sense of curiosity and a desire to figure things out is far more important, overall, than any textbook I could throw in front of the kids.  Dominick found a broken commercial toaster and brought it home.  In the middle of the school day on his day off he plopped it down on the counter and said, "Boys, let's check this out!"...and soon they were disconnecting the motor, looking at cogs and heating elements, and looking parts up on the internet.  Was it classifiable as "English" or "Math"?  Nope, but there was some real learning going on that allowed them to touch, do, and think.  Yea, sort of like real life.

Then there was Josh.  Recently I assigned the kids a project to work on posters and create maps of any country they wanted to research, then share what interesting things they learned.  These were pre-printed posters with questions to answer about exports, important dates, population, etc.  Joshie got to looking online and found several photos he liked of his country, Iceland, but there was no place on his poster to put what he had found.  So, he asks if he can have some time to do something a little different for his country research, grabs his iPad, and creates a document with a photo of the flag enlarged, and into that he inset four other photos.  I never taught him how to do it, he just needed time to explore the program, and a reason to explore it.

Sometimes, what our children need is time to play with what they are learning...not yet another structured assignment.  Now, I am not what one would consider an "Unschooler".  For the uninitiated, that is a real term in the homeschooling world and it is used for homeschoolers who are largely "delight directed" learners, who have no curriculum, and who live by the philosophy that when something needs to be learned, a child will learn it.  I can't go that far, as I think it is important to have a fair amount of structure with our schoolwork.  BUT...I have learned over time that creating an atmosphere of life learning is just about the most important thing I can do.  Yes, maybe even more important than teaching algebra.  Letting go and following where the learning is taking us, be it a google search about the sound of speech from the Caribbean or viewing a video clip that shows statistics of the disparity in pay between women and men, letting go and following that is more important, much more important.  That is something it took me a long time to learn, as lesson plans loomed large before me, and created a tug of war with what my heart told me.  My heart won out, and I think our homeschooling is better for it.

I've seen the fruits of other things we have learned as parents and educators (Aren't we ALL parents AND educators?).  Angela has saved for two years, amassing a personal fortune of just over $500.  This past week, she made a big decision to buy her own computer, just as Matthew did  last year.  I know many people think it is nuts to have so many computers in our home, but when you are homeschooling and there are several activities that are done on one for each child, sharing two computers for five kids becomes problematic, especially when Angela and Kenny share one and Kenny needs it no less than 2 1/2 hours per day for his math and auditory processing online program.  Matthew does Math, German and Civil Air Patrol study and tests on it, as well as now needing to do all writing assignments on his special editing software, so we were very fortunate when he decided to purchase his own.

At first, Dominick and I both felt pretty bad that Angela and  Matt had to use their own money at their ages to get computers for school work.  In talking with Angela, I expressed this to her and told her we could try and see what we could do over the next few months to get one for her, and that we felt that was more of a parental responsibility.  She quickly fired back at me, "Mom, I want to do this.  You guys buy everything for us, and you have less money because we are homeschooling and you stay home.  You have given up so much, we can all help how we can.  Besides, we are a team, right?  So I am being part of the team."  She excitedly researched with Dominick, placed an order on Amazon after finding just the right one, and anxiously awaited the arrival of her new baby.

I don't know who was more excited, Angela, or her siblings.  It was a big event, and everyone couldn't wait for her to get it out of the box.  Looking at these pictures, I realized something very important.  What at first glance sometimes feels like we are not living up to being all we could be for our children may just be an opportunity for them to take another step into maturity themselves. Seeing the pride on Angela's face as she held her new computer...earned all by herself by working at a real job where there were real expectations for performance...maybe it's not so bad after all.  Seeing how Matthew has taken such great care of his computer, purchased with his own hard work too, I see how my parents benefited me as well when I was younger and they were not in the position to buy me many of the things my friends were being given.  Growing up in an affluent community where my friends were given brand new Camaros, trips to Hawaii, and ski trips to Europe, I am sure my parents often felt way worse than we do at times as we struggle to put clothes on backs and food on the table.

But looking at this picture, I see pride, I see maturity, I see accomplishment. I wouldn't ever want to take that away, even if we DID have the ability to provide such things:

 And it will look even cuter when her new carrying case arrives, which we told her we would buy for her...purple with butterflies and hearts.  How much more girlie could you get??

Maybe homeschooling allows us to see how we are raising the whole child, heart and mind.  Maybe that is what I have learned over the past three years, that one part can't be ignored while the other is being attended to, that all parts of the human need to be nurtured simultaneously, and that learning should not be as compartmentalized.  I wonder if I would have been wise enough to understand that had we not decided to homeschool.  I know other parents can, but I am not as sure that I would have pulled that altogether in quite the same way.

So, while this homeschooling thing might appear to be all about educating the kids, it is really I who is learning more than I ever imagined.  This is my life now:

Curriculum and technology strewn about, my kitchen counter is almost always covered in photocopying projects, laptops, whole punches...and yes, I'll admit it, a Diet Coke.  This is the stuff of learning, or so it would seem.  Somehow though, I think the deepst subjects for me to study are five younger human beings entrusted to us by God to guide to adulthood in the best way we can.  I would bet that the learning I will receive from that experience would equal any college course.  Maybe, at the end, we will see we raised whole children into whole adults.  I hope so.


Anonymous said...

I applaud Angela for buying her own computer. It is a another step in learning to responsibly handle her finances that you have been teaching the kids all along. In addition, there is the pride of accomplishment. Grandson Nate just bought his own I-pad after saving for it, and (as you have seen) was so proud of his accomplishment that when he made Flat Nate to send around the world, Flat Nate had his own I-pad. Already your kids and Nate are learning what it is to handle money and to save for what they want, to know the difference between want and need. You also know the difference between foundational learning and soaring architectural education built on that foundation.

Kudos to all of you,

Ohiomom2121 said...

I am truly not surprised. We found home schooling to radically change our children's view of education. But, we had bright children who largely learned on their own (at High School level). However, even though your children had more challenges, you are incredibly bright and thoughtful...I had no doubts you would succeed in being a great teacher for them (although you actually have surpassed even what I expected!). So, go ahead, bask in the success. You earned it and you all deserve to share the joy. But, just know that us other home school moms kinda thought you would reach that result! So happy for you!