Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rantypants: Why Homeschool?

Rantypants. This could  be a new feature here on GrowMama. Today I tackle homeschooling and the myriad reasons why folks choose it.

I was in the unfortunate position of overhearing someone who has known my family for years rant about us the other day. And not in a nice way. It is not a position I ever want to be in again. Our kids are great mates, they’ve known each other all their lives. I am not sure how their friendship will fare through this. But. It is much better the truth comes out. At least things are clear. I don’t like it when the words don’t fit the energy you get from a person. Ick. That makes me feel super uncomfortable. The outburst explained a lot. The pain will pass. 

What was key for this person, was our decision to homeschool. Now, WHY this was such a contentious topic and one to draw such judgement– and for YEARS behind their closed doors apparently, boggles the mind. I mean, these people have not chosen state school for their child and many might call their choices strange. Anyway, I digress. Talking to a few good friends about what happened and reading some upset threads on facebook homeschooling pages on the topic brought to my awareness that it is a ‘thing’. Some folks are uncomfortable about homeschooling. I’d like to say a few things about that.

I just co-organised a big homeschooling conference, we attend several homeschooling groups, I actively read and research about education and learning, I am active on many homeschooling social media sites internationally. Let me tell you. There are as many reasons to homeschool as there are people doing it.

There are some commonalities.

People homeschool because their kids fell through the cracks, or because their kid has a medical condition that is too hard to monitor in school systems, or because their kid is special needs. And bear in mind, that these things might not be visible to the eye. Neither is it anyone’s business but that family’s. Folks homeschool because they love being with their kids and having more family time, because their child was struggling to keep up, or was being consistently bullied or their accelerated learning needs were not being met. 

Maybe they homeschool because the nearest school is a long bus journey away and their child doesn’t deal well with long days and they didn’t like the kid they got home at the end of the day. Perhaps they homeschool because their child is highly sensitive and doesn’t cope well with large crowds. Or they are easily distracted and act out when they feel under pressure which isn’t helpful for anyone. Maybe they are not fans of screen based learning or the curriculum taught in their local school. Perhaps their child got diagnosed with an ‘ism’ but once away from the pressure of school their symptoms eased up and they got their beautiful child who loves to learn back. We just never know. Parents know their child best. 

It might said that ideally, the choice to homeschool comes from assessing from a child’s needs and whether they are matched adequately by the schools available to them. Homeschooling might mean folks can’t afford to send their kid to the private school they’d thrive at.

Maybe they don’t want their child exclusively socialised in a group of same aged children, or perhaps they choose to be more mindful of the culture and pressures their child is exposed to. People might even choose to homeschool because the thought of making five lunches and hustling their five kids to their five separate educational institutions is enough to bring them to tears.

Perhaps they love the gleam in their children’s eyes when they grasp a difficult concept and begin to soar with it. Or these homeschoolers might value an unhurried life where there is time to lie in bed and read aloud together in the mornings and truly dive deeply into their work for as long as inspiration strikes. They might advocate for more unstructured play time in nature and homeschooling gives them the means to do that.

Homeschooling might be the norm within religious groups, it could be a lifestyle choice, or it may be seen as simply the best academic education available. It could be that a homeschooling family values the practice of service to their community and learning based at home gives them the ability to balance that with book learning.

I see so much judgement about parenting choices. I have to ask myself about the places in my own thinking where I might be guilty of that and ease up on the places I might do it too. We never know the context of each family’s decisions. A wise person I know once said, 
“Ask questions, don’t give opinions. YOU know what you think, you don’t need to put that on others. What we all need is to be open and explore more, learn from others. Ask about people’s lives. Cultivate an open mind. Judging divides us. Exploring keeps us connected and expands us”. Wise huh? 
I have called to mind these words many times this week. To have someone I considered a friend explode like that on me has really rocked us. Plus, my kid overheard some unpleasant things about himself and his mama. That’s hard. Does the unknown element of homeschooling freak some people out? ASK us. We don’t bite! 

Whatever our reasons for homeschooling, our decisions are not a judgement on anyone else’s choices. We have friendships with folks across the parenting and schooling spectrum. I like that. My kid has friends in state school, at Steiner schools, we hang with unschoolers and academic homeschoolers alike as well as people we keep in touch with internationally. I want him to respect  different choices, to understand that each has their gifts and challenges. That is just life. Who knows what our future choices will be. I want my kid to be open.

Being a homeschooling mama does not mean I am smarter, richer or that my house is cleaner than yours. It does not mean I have unlimited patience and feel superior to you. It does not mean I am overprotective. If pushed to summing up my thoughts in a nutshell I would say that there simply just aren’t enough schooling options for the rainbow of kids and their diverse needs. Or that possibly the educational opportunities available did not offer enough freedom to follow learning paths that makes kids hearts sing.

Homeschooling is a valid educational path. Just as valid as any school based learning. I have seen many kids truly flourish in their home and community based learning and that is a beautiful thing. It’s not for everyone but I do wish homeschooling was considered an option more often. And, just as I don’t criticise or judge folks in other educational choices, please don’t judge us for ours. Besides, you really have no idea of the context. Nor is it your business.
Let’s just embrace the diversity. All of it. Not doing so causes so much unnecessary pain and strife in the world.

Monday, June 29, 2015

birthday love

My birthday this year was one to remember. It started with dinner out at a local Italian restaurant on my birthday eve. We all dressed up which was fun. It's a rare treat to see the young fella in anything but hoodie and sweatpants and he totally rocked his outfit that night. Birthday morning began with coffee in bed (you all know I refuse to get out of bed until it's delivered right?!) with gifts from the boys. Jed made me a present this year. All by himself. From idea and finished product. Amazing! He carved me a plaque. It's so cool, I love it. He'd been working on it secretly for weeks. Sweet boy.

Plans for my actual birthday got put on hold as Jed had his last day of term sports tournament at his homeschooling group and we had to rush back for a funeral. Yup. 
We sneaked in (easy as it was in a marquee) about halfway through. It was one to remember. One of those before their time unexpected deaths. Leaving behind beloveds including an extended furry four-legged family and his daughter. Stink.
It was an amazing farewell. I think we all took something away from it. To live life, to do those things you always wanted to, remember to tell those close you love them. Seize the day. Stand up for what you believe in. There is nothing like a good funeral to put things into perspective. It was a beautiful send off. 

I got home to friend, Nicki, dropping off a raw apple pie for me. Super YUM. So much love gone into it. That pie was seriously the most amazing thing I have tasted. I had to get friends in to help me eat it. None could go to waste and as it was raw, time was of the essence. We had consensus: Best. Pie. Ever! She even popped in a tub of freshly made cashew cream. Gulp. So good! She is one very talented lady. 

Then there were all those delicious facebook messages from friends and whanau around the world. Sigh. xx

Thursday, June 25, 2015

apple season

We haven't been apple picking yet but we've been bringing home big boxes of seconds apples for $4 a pop from our local orchard. My favourite variety so far was Golden Delicious. I had plans to make all manner of apple recipes but so far we haven't gotten past stewed apple with fresh vanilla pod. It's the snack of choice here at the moment. So simple and so good.

And because I know some of you will email me and ask where to get the apple machine from: HERE! It peels, slices (into a spiral!) and cores in one easy action. We got ours for $20 in a sale five years ago and is one of the most used gadgets. There is a bunch of videos of them in action on youtube if you want to see it before investing in one. Kids love them.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Anjalee, gears and other stuff

We've been delving into a diverse array of learning. We recently spent the morning with the Royal NZ Ballet which heralded some great conversations about the human body, dance, creative expression and gender roles. The last few days has seen us building with K'nex. Learning about gears and engineering stuff. This one is a chainsaw. I stand by the use of 'stuff' as a technical term btw. 
Tomorrow we have an old DVD player to deconstruct to see how it works. Can't wait!
Someone asked me what an average homeschooling day is like for us today. The easy answer might be that there is no average day. Today we spontaneously left our table of books and projects to dash into town to catch a glimpse of Auckland Zoo's newly arrived Asian elephant, Anjalee. It was her first day in NZ. We even got to chat to the senior elephant keeper Andrew, who has been with her from the elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka and throughout her three months quarantine in Niue. 

I'll have a think and see if there's a blog post or two in what a homeschooling day might look like. It might even be a feature series, there are as many ways to approach homebased learning as there are families doing it. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Forest days

Today's blogpost I planned to write about our weekly Forest Free Play days. Oh the irony. We loved the first sessions and now are not sure if we'll continue. Ai yi yi. Life aye? It twists and turns and delivers surprises when least expected. I still love the concept. A whole day in the bush no matter the weather. Deepening friendships. Freedom to explore.

Imagine a big chunk of bush extending all the way to the sea. Imagine a woodpile, a fire place, a big simple homebase structure. Imagine rain gear and woolly jumpers, gumboots and some hardy small people determinedly wearing their favourite swimsuit. Imagine freshly picked apples wrapped in tinfoil and cooked in the fire. Kids learning about fire building, how to whittle, identifying the creatures, plants and fungi they find, making huts, coming in and out of time with other children of all ages and time with parents and other grownups equally willing to support them. We kinda do that ourselves on a smaller scale but there was something special about sharing it with a tribe of sorts. In the immortal words of someone I know ...Ah well. We'll see how things unfurl. Life has a beautiful way of presenting new paths when one closes. xx