If you've ever wanted to experience schizophrenia without all the stigma and inconvenience of a true mental health disorder, you should homeschool your kids. Really. There's nothing quite like taking a child's education into your own hands to make you question everything you think you know on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
Sometimes I am so confident that we are doing what is right and good that I want to tell everyone. Education reform? Pshaw. Give it to ME. Clearly I've got this thing all figured out.
These days tend to look nothing at all like school. They are the days when the boys play without fighting and spend hours upon hours using their imaginations and doing the things they love. The days we are connected to our community. Where we have good conversations. Where teachable moments come up as they do. When nothing is forced or expected.
They are the days that are hard to explain. "What did you do today?" might sound pretty straight forward but these are not list-checking days. They are free-wheeling, creative, let learning happen kinds of days.
They are always our favorite days.
You would think I'd do everything in my power to make sure more of these days happen. And I do. But too many of these days in a row and I start to worry. What are we doing to Liam's potential? What if someday he wants to go to "real" school and he can't because he spent too much time being a kid and not enough time being a student? What if everything that feels right is actually wrong?
So I slam on the brakes and flip the car around.
I make lists of all the things that must be done. I come up with expectations and make them known. I dangle the carrot in front of the horse and bribe my 8 year old to do what I think he should do.
And he does it! He steps in line and checks everything off the list. He does it for the prize and because it's WHAT WE'RE DOING. He might even like it. It's hard to tell. But anyway, that's not the point. The list is not meant to be liked, it's meant to be done. So he does it. He finds success within my expectations and for a few days or weeks we are happy.
Or maybe not happy but compliant. We're doing the things and it feels successful. A list can't help but make you feel productive, you know? Just look at all those check marks! On Monday they weren't there and now they are. We have done the things!
But then I start to worry. No one seems very excited about the things. Where is the fire? The passion? Can I get a little gusto up in here?! Because, if I'm honest, I don't want to raise a kid who can do the things. I want to raise a leader. A thinker. Someone who is alive and passionate and creative and unique.
Plus, I'm tired of making the list. It's so boring. Week after week of more or less the same stuff. Do some math. Read some chapters. Practice spelling and handwriting. Blah, blah, blah. Maybe Liam should make the list? That would give him more buy in, right? I could still bribe him to finish it and we'd all feel accomplished and successful and when people asked, "What did you do today?" we could answer them.
So I ask him, "What do you want to do this week? What are your expectations for yourself?" He looks at me with a blank stare. He has no idea what he wants to do. I panic. HE HAS NO IDEA WHAT HE WANTS TO DO!!! How will he succeed at 3rd grade if he has no idea what he wants to do?!?
I worry about it until Bill comes home from work and then I unload on him. "Liam isn't excited about school. He's not excited about anything. I just want him to be more excited..."
He reminds me that we've had this conversation before. Only it was him telling me to be more excited.
I tell him that's not what I mean. That Liam and I already talked about how some people are just more even keel and that's fine. "Besides," I say. "It's not really excitement I'm looking for but engagement. A little buy in, you know? I want him to want to learn."
"Seriously? You want an 8 year old boy to want to learn to spell? That's probably not going to happen..."
Oh, man. How true is that? Learning for the sake of learning is the worst. Doing something just to check it off the list? I may as well be teaching the test.
So I lay off the list. I mean, we still make it so Liam knows what he has to do for his classes and has an idea of what his week will look like, but I stop focusing on it so much.
On Monday, Finn is at school for most of the day so Liam has a lot of time to do his thing. He immediately jumps into his Minecraft modding class. This is not something that has weekly deliverables or expectations. It's something he can do on his own time which generally means he waits to do it until he's completed his has tos. But I need to see him engaged and this seems to be doing the trick.
So I leave him to it and he works on the class ALL DAY LONG. He is not only engaged but super duper excited. He's learning Java and graphic design and programming. At least, I think that's what he's doing. To be honest I have NO IDEA what this class is all about. I look over his shoulder and it's all in a language I don't understand. But he loves it.
He's creating and learning to troubleshoot and persevering even when things get really hard and confusing.
I am so impressed. And he's seriously excited! Nothing gets checked off our list all day. We are back to a free wheeling, unschooling sort of day. He's happy. I'm happy. And I swear this time I will remember what a successful day at our little home school looks like.
And I'm sure I will.
At least for a little while.