“It is not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.” – Adlai E. Stevenson
Despite this week’s constant wind, soggy rain, and temperatures hovering in the 50s, our school year is winding down and thoughts are turning towards the summer. To be fair, just because the weather gets warmer, our day-to-day life doesn’t change a great deal. As self-directed learners, our summer days can look a lot like a day in the middle of the school year, with the exception of a few less classes and a slightly looser schedule.
Looking back on our school year, it is clear to see just how much everyone has grown. This is the year that Big Brother has fully embraced what it means to be a self-directed homeschooler. This was solidified for me last week as we were having dinner with friends and while sharing stories of his experiences at a self-directed learning center he’s been visiting he says:
“You know who my teacher is at the center?
It’s me. I’m my own teacher.”
My heart was swelling as a smile spread across my face hearing those words. I felt nearly giddy knowing that he feels so empowered to take charge of his learning. I have spent a lot of time this year teaching him how to search for the answers to his questions either through conversation with knowledgeable adults, seeking out books, using the endless resources of the internet, and the good ol’ scientific method. One powerful tool he has acquired this year is reading. His process of learning to read has been a slow burn, but about a month ago there was a very clear and bright light that turned on inside of him. I watched his reading go from a labored stumble to a confident stride. You want to know the secret? Constant reading. I did very little instruction beyond a random reminder of the magic e and strewing books that were appropriate for his ability. We spent time every day reading…by ourselves, to each other, in order to follow directions, a recipe, a street sign or just to change the music on the iPad. Reading weaves its way into every corner of our lives. My husband and I joke that he reminds us of the old guy in the movie Forget Paris with his new-found love of reading:
I have enjoyed watching Big Brother spend an enormous amount of time pouring himself into his passions. When he has stumbled upon something that inspires him, he will spend hours, days, and often weeks doing nothing but practicing and perfecting. This year those passions have included: stop-motion animation, inventing and building machines and robots, origami, drawing, a range of mathematical concepts including number sense and time, nature and animals, and lots of self-help skills from tying shoes to making his own food.
His relationship with his brother is beautiful. Most days he is so kind and loving towards him. (I mean, yes, sometimes they fight…they are human). He has such a caring way of being with his brother, bringing him into his world either by including him in his play, reading to him or just goofing around together. Their close and loving relationship is one of the aspects of homeschooling that I treasure because it would look different without the amount of time they get to be together.
Little One has been on a journey of his own, focusing a great deal on how the world works and where he fits into it all. His Waldorf teacher tells me on a regular basis that he is a little philosopher (wonder where he gets that from). He questions everything. He has enormous concerns over what is real versus pretend and he tries to decide where his fears lie. After reading a book about bats and discovering that there is such a thing as a vampire bat, we spent the next week having conversation after conversation about the ways in which he was safe from vampire bats as well as him reporting back to me that he was pretending to be a vampire bat in his circus arts class. This boy works everything out through play. Everything we talk about, read about, watch, and listen to shows up in his play and imagination. He is also fascinated with how our body works. He wants to know where his food goes, how he breathes, and with every scrape and scratch, he wants to be reassured that his body knows how to heal itself. His big heart is always looking out for every little creature that crosses his path so much so that he can’t even stand the thought of a crushed ant.
He is a dreamer, spending a great portion of his day lost in the story running through his head. Something I have come to realize about him is that part of the struggles with our transitions often lie in the fact that he feels jolted out of his dreamy storyline running through his head. Though it’s not always possible when you’re one of three kids to have your mom or dad meet you in your play to carry you through to the next part of the day, I try my best to be cognizant and respectful of his play. For instance, if he’s lost in a world of exploring outer space with a carefully crafty rocket ship and astronaut made out of Legos and it is happens to be time for a bath, by joining him in outer space and gently suggesting that his astronaut lands in this massive ocean below, there can sometimes be less stress and friction. But again, having three small kids is often times like running a zoo and there are times when I am just too damn tired to be that creative and I just need him to get in the bath. Sigh. It’s a work in progress.
And finally, my sweet Baby Girl. Having just celebrated her first birthday a few months ago, she is changing and growing at lightening speed. Every day there is a new skill, a clearer understanding or word added to her repertoire. She is a non-stop explosion of development and joy. She has the most incredible sense of humor and makes me belly laugh daily. She is charming and friendly and will fearlessly walk up to a stranger and give them her best smile. Her recent favorites include putting clothes and shoes on and then taking them off, objects that can go in and out of something else (be it a box, bag or envelope), singing, dancing, and doing her best to keep up with her big brothers. Probably her most favorite pastime is sitting on chairs or stools just her size and looking at books. Thankfully when things get quiet, this is what I find her up to. She’s a champion napper still snoozing close to two hours twice a day, which I find dreamy given my previous non-sleeping babies. Most nights she’ll sleep through the night unless one of those pesky teeth are bugging her. And speaking of teeth…finally here at fourteen months, she has the beginnings of her two top and bottom teeth. They took forever to show up!
And then there’s Mama. This has been a pretty great year for me overseeing this wild ride. It was the first, on the books, official homeschool year, meaning the first year I had to let it be known to my school district that we were homeschooling. Even though I knew, based on all my homeschooling friends’ feedback that we would be approved to homeschool, I can’t say I wasn’t anxious awaiting the letter back from the district confirming we were good. I have loved watching the Ah-ha! moments with each of my children. I’m always amazed when they teach me something: a random fact about sharks, a new way to fold and create with paper, a cool Lego design. They ask questions I don’t know (or remember) the answer to all the time and I really enjoy researching and finding answers together.
There were a handful of moments throughout the year when I would panic for a hot minute thinking that I couldn’t handle this or it was too much. I worried I wasn’t giving them enough: enough quality learning time, enough social interaction, enough of what they need to build a strong foundation of a love for learning. Thankfully these panic moments never lasted too long before I would realize everyone is thriving. I would say any concerns over their education and well-being is the least of my worries. What I have learned is important for me to focus my extra energy on is self-care and getting in enough time for me. Some days I completely forget to take care of myself. Then other days I find an excellent balance.
It is also, a work in progress.