Saturday, December 22, 2007

Homeschool beginnings 2

While I had never in a million years considered homeschooling before we moved to our little town and began watching our unique little girl grow into her own person, in retrospect I can see the seeds of the idea that were planted in my mind. People who seemed to like me and understand me began asking if I was planning to homeschool. Local teacher-friends began saying little things that made me realize Erin was not your typical preschooler and was not going to be a natural fit for the school system. And then there was my little girl herself, merrily exploring all sorts of primary-school math concepts and reading her way toward young adult literature, yet not at all comfortable with being away from her parents or opening her mouth outside her own home. She was fiercely private and autonomy-driven, but was quickly mastering the fine art of blending in in public. What an odd bundle of contradictions she was!

But everyone sent their kids to school, and school was a good thing, wasn't it? I was the product of years of mostly-successful schooling. As a 5-year-old I'd started school a capable reader at a new public school of young teachers enthusiastically thinking outside the box, still under the influence of the idealistic 1960's. I'd had a couple of great elementary school teachers, been given some unique opportunities and been magically accelerated through material and grades. Even though I would describe my junior high and highschool education as pretty dismal, I'd had my music studies to sustain me and had managed to learn how to play the game of keeping schoolteachers reasonably happy in time to graduate with a decent transcript. A switch from music performance to medicine in university stoked my interest in academic achievement and I had done well by any measure. I was a schooling success story, I suppose, and despite a certain lurking cynicism, I hadn't really ever questioned to necessity of schooling. Homeschooling wasn't on my radar.

Serendipity conspired to put it there. I had received a series of persistent and persuasive phone calls from a mom of two girls who had been Suzuki violin students until their recent move to our rural area. She'd heard through the grapevine that I had grown up a Suzuki violin student and had done some teacher-training in the past. I finally agreed to do my best nurturing them along on violin, and they began coming for weekly lessons in my living room. It turned out they were homeschooling. I was curious about it and asked what it was like and how it worked for them. "Oh it's great," S. said. "It works well for us. The trick for me is to have a schoolroom and to set time aside for it. Not like those unschoolers," she said, with a sigh and a slightly disparaging tone. It was the first time I had heard the word.

Around the same time I also got involved in a string quartet. The violist's 11-year-old daughter was often at our rehearsals. It turned out she was homeschooled to. It didn't come up for discussion much, but ultimately her daughter was exhibit A in the case for unschooling. She was shy but self-confident, had unique interests, and was clearly knowledgeable, curious and optimistic about the world. She was her own quirky self, and felt absolutely good about it. Her mom, my quartet-mate, was also beginning to teach Suzuki violin at the time, and we had a few discussions about the Suzuki approach. I think she recognized that the things that I believed so strongly about the Suzuki philosophy were the same things that made me an undeclared unschooler -- a strong belief and trust in every child's ability to learn, the importance of a nurturing environment, the primacy of the parent-child relationship in learning, and the ultimate goal of education -- the development of a fine and sensitive human spirit. The only time I recall homeschooling coming up as a topic for discussion was when she quipped "oh Miranda, you're a dyed-in-the-wool unschooler, you just don't know it yet."

Erin had an early birthday, barely into the New Year, meaning that she had just missed the cutoff (Dec. 31) for kindergarten the fall she was four-and-a-half. She would be a solid five-and-a-half years old before she was eligible for public school. More serendipity. I was given an extra year for the seeds of the homeschooling idea to germinate.

I had no idea that they'd even been planted, those seeds, but they had clearly been germinating for a while because one day one of them popped up through the soil of my consciousness, green and eager. I'd become part of an motley classical music ensemble that was calling itself a Community Orchestra, and one of the members, a french horn player, was a female GP from a neighbouring community. I had worked a couple of very short-term locums for her over the previous year or two, and she was continually working on her plan that I would begin working some regular part-time hours at her clinic, thus allowing her to cut back on her own drastically over-stretched clinic schedule. She had taken to teasing me about my layabout stay-at-home mom lifestyle. "Come on Miranda," she said, "those kids will be in school soon, and then what will be your excuse?"

"Actually," I retorted, "have I mentioned I'm hoping to homeschool them?"

Where did that come from? I wondered to myself as soon as the words popped out. Was that a flippant comeback to Diana's teasing? Maybe it was that, but I knew it wasn't just that. It was a secret wish that had been growing inside me that I wasn't yet brave enough to speak aloud except in jest. It marked the beginning of a realization -- I was indeed thinking about this, and seriously.

Somewhere over the course of the next couple of months I began to think of Erin's Extra Bonus Preschool Year as a secret thought-experiment I was conducting. I would pretend to myself that this was actually her Kindergarten year, and that we were unschooling, and I would see how it went. Maybe if it went well, I'd start feeling comfortable about sharing my secret thoughts.


  1. I am enjoying your series on how you can to homeschool. I think it is interesting that others saw you as an unschooler even before you knew it yourself, too.
    We evolved into unschooling over our first year of homeschool. I think it was as much N.'s peronality that drove us in that direction as it was my questioning of the educational system. Anyway, that's our story in short. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of yours.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. I can't wait to hear about how your closest friends and family reacted to your decision! :)

    If there is a part 3, of course!

  3. It's interesting! I also had seeds planted that took quite awhile to I am learning to tend the garden as I have no role models nor examples in which to draw from. It is interesting, frustrating, enlightening, and satisfying all at the same time. What I want to work on is the fun and delight of it all--but that comes with letting go of my expectations and learning to relax and balance and observe. You are a wonderful inspiration.


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