These are some of the ideas that have been kicking around in my brain. Ddon't try to make too much sense of them or to place them in any specific order. They are not refined; they are just percolating around right now.
My children are only children for a short while. How can I not be patient? How could I dare to waste even a day with them? Truly, today is all we ever have. I might not live to see them grown. They might not live into adulthood. If we are all here in 50 years then we will know that we were blessed with time. No matter what, we were blessed with each other.
Living is Learning. There is no separation. Being at home with one or more parents (and grandparents and other extended family), with siblings or not (or cousins and other children), truly living, provides a rich environment for the child to grow in. In my opinion, institutionalized schools (public or private) are poor environments to grow in. Only the hardiest of souls will come though unscathed; the rest will have been scarred, they will have wilted, some will have died (soul-wise). How many of us have spent 10-15-20 years trying to undo what was done to us during our public school years?
I don't want to play nice. I don't want to say that public school is a perfectly fine option. I can still think it is a lousy choice even if someone I know sends their children to public/private school. I acknowledge that not everyone has a choice, and I am sympathetic to those for whole public school is the only answer. I also boldly suggest that some people have the choice and do not choose it. People don't want to know.
Within a thriving family there can be balance. I can be patient with my children while also taking care of my own needs as a human being. The thing I must remember is that most of the time we are loving, living, and learning together. It is a dance...the boys and I, the boys and their father, all for us, the boys alone, my husband and I. We weave in and out, twirling, grasping and letting go of hands, and grasping again. Occasionally we dance alone, yet we always return to the circle.
You cannot teach a child to learn. Children learn, just as children breathe. They learn in their own time and in their own way. We ALL learn...we never stop.
We have our mind models, and children have theirs. The more we expose them to, the more they see as being possible for them. Children don't learn to read because we want them to, they learn to read when they have the desire as well as the belief that is possible and that it will bring good things to them (or when they know that not making the effort will disappoint a parent or teacher). I'm not saying we can't help the process, if the child is interested. I certainly think we can hinder it if we push a child to do something he isn't open to.
A child's life NOW is just as important as his life in the FUTURE. Children should not have to suffer now in order to procure some kind of education of vocation in the future.
We are living an entwined life, enjoined with the earth and all of it's species, it rocks and mountains, its oceans, rivers, and lakes. I cannot live without accepting that my very existence causes others to die. They may be plants, or animals, or people. I may cause the death with purpose (plants I eat), knowing that the life cycle completes and repeats. I may cause an entire plant or animal species to go extinct because I am a human being alive at this point in time, responsible for global warming and climate change, responsible for polluting air, soil, and water, responsible for habitat destruction and the loss of wildlife corridors. I acknowledge that animals are part of the food chain, whether I eat them or not. They provide fertility to the soil, they live in symbiosis with plants and fungi, they die when fields are harvested (the strictest vegan is still not without blood on his/her hands). My life as a privileged American may mean that somewhere else in the world people are dying to provide my lifestyle. Their waters may be polluted because of shrimp farming, their forests cut down to provide fields to grow something American want. Their children labor to sew clothing and to make things, or to mine and to harvest crops sprayed heavily with pesticides, pesticides that we ban here in the US and lock far away from our own children.
I must not drown in the fear and pain that accompanies such an acknowledgment. I must do what I can to prevent things that are inhumane. I must reduce my consumption. I must opt out of the mainstream American lifestyle. I must recognize that I am heavily marketed to as an alternative consumer and choose not to consume. I must do the best that I can, all the while keeping myself sane and whole. I must not forget that I still live, today.
One thing I have said for a long time, is that our children are people with wants and needs that are as important as our own. It is one of the most difficult concepts that I have ever seen adults try to incorporate into their parenting. I want my child to get dressed, he wants to stay in his pajamas. Even if we are going somewhere, my want is not more important than my child's. Because of this, we need to find a way to work together. I must remember that my child does not have fewer human rights because he is a child. If my husband wanted me to get dressed and I didn't want to, we would have to explore why; do I not want to go where he is going? Am I busy with something else at the moment? My husband can not drag me by my arm to my room, strip off my pajamas and put my clothes on me, and then drag me out to the car, not without damaging our relationship. He cannot threaten to drag me out of the house naked or in my pajamas. No, he must share his reasons with me and let me decide.
Honestly, these kinds of power struggles don't often exist in egalitarian relationships, because the other person is so willing to see your point of view and act in accord, knowing that in time you will be the one who accommodates him or her. The more I listen to my children and remember that we have a relationship based on attachment, not fear or punishment, the more I am willing to do for them, and in turn the more they are willing to do for me.
When I apply the idea that my children have equal wants and needs to the concept of directed learning, I see that anything that I want for the future is something I want, and not necessarily something my child wants. I may have reasons for wanting him to attend college, or to avoid debt, or to know something of the classics, and in the end he may want those same things, but he may not.
When my child is not ready to read, he is not ready. The desire will come in its own time. To push, to fret, to cajole...it is all fruitless and at times it is damaging.
His wants and needs are as important as my own.
Doing. Doing. Doing. I believe that learning takes place mostly through experience. We can read about a place, but never know it until we have been there. I don't consider watching TV or playing computer/video games to be doing. Almost everyone I know disagrees with me. That's okay. I want to do things, to go places, to explore museums and gardens and towns and mountains and beaches and deserts and...to just get out there and live. I want to create with our hands together, to cook together, to make music together, to read together...I recognize that it is TOGETHER that we are living and learning.
I am trying to stop thinking in terms of "parts". Think of the whole. My child is whole, I am whole; treat the whole person, don't just try to treat parts. Decide if "treating" whatever "disease" may be present does more harm than simply accepting and living with it. Don't break up the day into little things to accomplish this or that. Live the whole day and see what happens. Do real things...walk, run, talk, laugh, love. Needs will be met. Don't eat foods in an attempt to eat certain nutrients. Eat real food (thanks, Michael Pollan).
What most of this means is that we are in the midst of completely changing how we "homeschool" (if you recall, a term I gave up awhile back since we are in no way a school). I still have my map to guide us, but the boys have far more day to day input, and I am going to stop trying to do lessons on things they already know. A lot of practice time can occur in real life. Heck, I'm rethinking the term "lessons" as well. There has to be a balance; I believe the children look to me as a guide in this world and that they don't want to face it without me as their protector, so I don't follow the ideas of radical unschooling. Still, I want more life, and fewer lessons.
We'll do more. Experience is the medium of learning. My kids surprise the heck out of me. The handwriting practice that was "assigned" Monday and hated by J-Baby becomes a choice when I back off, and is completed happily on his own terms. T-Guy likes and wants workbooks, sometimes. Tools can be tools and not assignments. Addition problems can be fun, if they are chosen, just as perhaps an adult might choose a crossword or sudoku puzzle. I must believe in my children, believe that they are creative, inquisitive, wonderful people who want to learn and explore and live.
Make the soup rich. Add experiences. Add ideas. Add beautiful things, and outside places, and lots of books. Sing and make music. Dance. Eat real food. Live your values and share them with your children. Visit friends. Meet new people...talk to people! Have parties. Think, and make sure that your children know it and encourage them to think too. Trust your intuition. Be prepared. Do things together - don't shut your children out, even if it makes a mess or takes longer.
Live. Learn. Laugh. Love. It will make you whole.