Friday, May 20, 2011

Educational Bungee Jumping

in which I try to gather my thoughts before my first post on an Unschooling Yahoo Group!

I may have your attention with that menacing word in my subtitle.  Yes, I know it sounds crazy...sort of like the connotations that the words unsupervised, undisciplined, unstructured conjure up.  I recently read Suzie Andres' book, Homeschooling with Gentleness, and it got me thinking...about a lot of things.

...thinking about a lot of things.

I should probably start at the beginning when my boat started to shake a bit.  I started out this year...not the school January with the Alphabet Path.  I was intrigued by Elizabeth Foss's ideas and had heard about her book, Real Learning.
I knew it had a Charlotte Mason bent so I wasn't all that interested.  But the Alphabet Path was very interesting.  After our trip to Europe, Gabe and Jane were chomping at the bit to get going with reading.  Gabe already knew all of his letters and numbers and was quickly learning the phonograms from The Writing Road to Reading along with Lucas.  He wasn't interested in writing so I didn't think I'd push that.  Besides I didn't have time and I was still feeling drained from our trip.

I was doubting everything in November...homeschooling, having a large family, and whether I could handle it all.  Overwhelmed was an understatement.  I was so depressed that after a friend's daughter committed suicide, I had reached an all time low point.  I quickly sent in applications for the five oldest children to a charter school that would be opening its doors in Fall 2011.  I thought this was surely the way to sanity.  Thankfully, a friend suggested I recheck my thyroid levels and talk about my depression.  It took one visit with one of the midwives that delivered one of the kids...I can't remember which one!...for her to suggest I get evaluated for depression, get a prescription, and start seeing a counselor and psychiatrist.  She said that she'd never seen me that low and reassured me I had more than my share of things on my plate.  A couple months on medication and several visits later with a counselor got me back on my feet.  All the while I was praying and talking to Daddy about which route to take with the kids.  I knew I didn't want to send the kids to school.  After all, I love homeschooling, and they do, too.  So we went to one parent meeting for the charter school and withdrew their positions on their wait-list since all of them had gotten in.

...all of them had gotten in.

Getting back to Charlotte Mason...I have always liked the ideas there, but the narrations, the nature studies...I guess all the time spent having to do things with my kids scare me.  Hah!  I know I spend lots of time with the kids, but I like to lay out a plan and let them go.  They come to me for explanation, and I'm not all that patient when they disturb me.  What am I doing that they disturb me?  Keeping my sanity by crafting, reading, scheduling praying, and organizing.  It's a tough balancing act to serve and do and love and do it all over again.  It seems our days are spent changing Nick's diapers, straightening up so we can walk through the house, clearing off places to work, sweeping and vacuuming, making meals and cleaning up, sometimes reading aloud, and running around for activities.  We are living.  Together.  We are busy, active, happy, frustrated, impatient, loving, serving, and finding God in all of this.  I don't follow a set curriculum.  I've always been afraid to buy a boxed curriculum.  I have a homeschool road map that I like to follow, but sometimes I get off the path.  Sometimes life doesn't allow me to stay on track, but I have found that God always has my back.  

...God always has my back.

Also, in November I met a wonderful gal at our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd location.  She too had a son in the same class with Lucas and Gabe.  At that first meeting, we talked about homeschooling, unschooling, and her thoughts on both subjects and mine.  I was so taken with her and started to look forward to seeing her at Good Shepherd and asking her questions.  She would pose different scenarios or ask questions about parenting.  She really got me thinking about our style of homeschooling.  Was it really that close to being "unschooling?"  I was a bit shocked and then a bit relieved.  I remember hearing the term "unschooling" the summer after we withdrew our girls from school.  A mother at a ballet class was telling me how popular Classical curriculums had become, but that she chose unschooling as a better way of teaching her children.  I was so disgusted.  How could anyone not like the Classics?  How could anyone not want their children to follow a path that was well-worn, time-tested, and pursued the true, good, and beautiful?  

...the true, good, and beautiful

And, yet, she was a confident mother.  I was envious of her confidence.  I wanted that, too, but not with unschooling.  But I had it wrong.  After conversations with the "Good Shepherd" gal and reading through Suzie's book, I realized that a Catholic can be an unschooler.  I thought I might be one of those people.  After all unschooling does not mean you don't use textbooks, sign up for classes, or let your children sway in the wind like dandelions going out to seed.  On the contrary, I was being exhorted to tend my little garden with a gentle hand, to have conversations with my little flowers, and watch them grow into whatever God intended them to be.  I may have to stake them at times, fence them in, weed around them, and maybe even replant them.  But that is what a gardener does knowing all the while that he, too, is being pruned, tilled, and fertilized by his Gardener.  We never stop learning.  We can't.  If our hearts desire to be with God, isn't life one big lesson where we learn how to do that?

...conversations with my little flowers...

I'm now reading through A Little Way of Homeschooling, Suzie Andres' second book.
 Have you read it?  Any thoughts?  Are you a "closet" unschooler?
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