Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deschooling thoughts (or, in other words, finding our way)

I know. Jason and I completely stink at updating our blog. Please don't throw tomatoes at us. We are nice people. Promise!

I've been thinking a lot about our homeschooling journey. We've gone in a huge, curving, oops-I-missed-my-turn type of journey to get from a simple point A to point B. I think our meandering journey was a necessary part of figuring all of this out.

Before we made the decision to pull Haley out of public school, I had read about the concept of "deschooling" but didn't grasp how much I needed to deschool myself. I haven't been in school since I graduated from college in 1995. Still, deschooling for me has been the somewhat long and quite difficult process of getting rid of my old ideas about "school" and replacing them with the ideas in my heart and mind about learning. I have always been a learner. Somewhat of an obsessive learner, actually. What I really needed to do was stop trying to make our home a school like the one Haley used to attend (which didn't meet her needs) and follow my heart about how she might learn best.

We started in August with all kinds of schedules and a huge list of things a second grader "needed" to know. I was obsessed about making sure we did 5-6 hours a day of hardcore "school". No extra stuff until we finished with "school". Talk about stressful! This tactic is a bit amusing in hindsight, since anxiety was a huge reason we chose to homeschool.

I felt guilty for the first few months, constantly worried that we weren't doing this "right". It's already laughable, just a few months later. There is no "right" way to homeschool. I realize that now.

Things have been hard. Within months of beginning, I had to throw out all kinds of curriculum choices, things I had worked hard to put together. I had to adapt to Haley's attention problems and extreme emotional impulsivity. I had to adjust to being with her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I had to adapt my schedule to fit her back into it. I had to really focus on her intelligence, humor and creativity because I knew that in order to be successful, we needed to emphasize her strengths and minimize her weaknesses. But the "how" of doing that was hard to find.

After struggling for a few months, I decided to be "lazy". To relax. To watch her and listen to her and see what happened. I realized that Haley is an auditory learner. That didn't mesh with my teaching style at all. Huge problem! I had been feeling that in order to be a supermom and extraordinary teacher, we should be doing lots of hands-on activities. You know, "fun stuff". I added lots of multi-media, activities, songs, games. That stuff went over like a lead balloon.

What did Haley really want to do? Listen. She loves to be read to, she loves to listen to music, she loves to listen to shows. She even likes her worksheets (but only with music or tv noise in the background). Most of the other stuff I was hoping we would do? Nope. Nada. No interest. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time she threw a fit over something "fun", well, I'd be ready to head on a nice long European vacation by now.

I really should not have been surprised. Haley is amazingly verbal. She remembers everything she hears. She prefers oral reporting and discussion over writing. She's very musical. She always wants sound in the background (tv, music). She rarely makes eye contact when I'm reading to her but she's soaking it all in. SHE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. Why was I forcing her into learning in a way that made her irritated and uncomfortable. She WAS learning. Why was I stressing so much?

Now I am better able to give her what she needs. I'm letting go of those old schooling notions and learning to embrace our, quite lovely, reality. Haley is thriving. She has very little anxiety about "schoolwork" now. She is curious and loves to ask questions. More importantly, she's figuring out how to find answers to her questions. She has learned SO MUCH already this year and we still have two full months to go. That is exciting!

Deschooling has been hard for her but it's especially and surprisingly been harder for me. That wasn't what I expected at the beginning of this adventure. It's turning out to be a great lesson in patience and trusting myself.