We often write about the cool things our kids are doing as they receive a home education – an education fueled by their passions and interests yet curated by the adults who know them best. As a parent who loves learning, I have my own ideas for what makes a great education, so while I give my children's interests a priority, I do not "unschool."
Perhaps part of the reason I don't unschool is a bit selfish. Not only are there topics (besides reading and math) that I believe every student should have a basic knowledge of – history, world religion, a foreign language, and art, just to name a few – but I want to learn more about these important topics, too. In my traditional public school education, I only skimmed the surface of some of these subjects, and others were not part of a traditional school curriculum. Now that I’m homeschooling my kids, I can give them the education I think they should have, and I can benefit from it, too.
I should note, however, that if I introduce a topic to my kids, and they moan and groan, we just skim it too. I'm not going torture them. But I feel as we link these bits together, it will someday complete a strong chain of knowledge that will enhance their lives and personal endeavors, and they may come back to it at a later date.
There are also times I introduce something to my kids, and they want more, so we dive in! This happened when I introduced space exploration and weather science to my eldest son when he was little. We have the time and flexibility to spend as much or as little time as we want on a subject, which I treasure about homeschooling.
Whether or not my kids want to learn more about a subject, I have learned that I can have my own projects! Even if they don't join me, I can keep reading, exploring, and creating. In fact, this is a crucial part of homeschooling... I should be modeling the behavior I want them to have, right? This has been a very liberating aspect of home education that I didn't realize would happen when I started.
Perhaps even more delightful are the subjects that my children have brought me to. In them, I have found some of my passions. I think these passions were always there, but they were not fully realized. My sons were the keys who opened these doors for me.
For example, when my eldest son was four I discovered that nature brought him alive. I accompanied him to several nature and science classes at our local nature center, and his shyness fell by the wayside as he hiked on the nature trails and listened to the naturalists. As for me, I fell in love with the whole atmosphere. I fell in love with science!
Science was my most dreaded class in school. (Perhaps second to P.E.) I never understood it. My teachers were horrible. As a result, I had huge misconceptions about science. And worst of all, I thought I was bad at it. But seeing science through my son's eyes, and being reintroduced to it through the nature center programs, I am hooked. I even developed a deep appreciation for snakes and amphibians through my son's first love.
Without my kids, I now read science articles, nature memoirs, and I began my Year of Citizen Science projects. I share these things with them, if I think they would be interested in them, but I consider these endeavors part of my own education that I'm pursuing while also home educating my children.
Here are some more examples of the endeavors I have started since I began homeschooling:
- My eldest son spent a long time learning about carnivorous plants when he was seven. Now he grows them, and I help him. I think they are so pretty that I'm sure I'll be cultivating these plants long after he moves out of the house.
- My younger son has a great passion for birds, and this has been contagious for the whole family. In fact, I have a little morning ritual of observing birds out my window before my boys even wake up! (And now I have this book on my wish list.)
- Through my younger son's love of drawing, I started a sketchbook habit that I hope I'll continue the rest of my life.
- Recently, I began a project all of my own. That is, no one else in the house started this interest, though they’re all reaping the benefits. I am on a mission to learn how to bake bread with natural yeast, and I’m taking it little by little as I have time.
I think more than anything, homeschooling has taught me that if I want to do or learn about something, I can do it slowly and in increments. A little bit goes a long way! Reading for 15 minutes....finding a few minutes to sketch every week or month.... finding a new YouTube video about bread baking every once in a while.... I don't have to accomplish my goals this week or this month.
It's about giving my interests attention on a regular basis.
I never realized that this is what it looks like to have discipline. While I was capable of finishing what was required of me when I was younger, I rarely finished those things that I wanted to do... those personal goals that no one was making me do.
Sadly, I don’t think traditional school teaches children how to have self-motivated discipline. Because kids are having to work so hard to accomplish goals set by other people, they don’t have the time or energy to explore and develop their own interests. At least, I didn’t.
But in homeschooling my own children, I have learned that real learning happens slowly. I have learned to manage my time better (because I have to!), and I have learned that I can have many projects going at once. While I try to focus on just one or two at a time so that I can make progress, it is liberating to have no deadlines. Those things we do for ourselves should be joyful and stress-free, though certainly a steady progression forward is what brings happiness and fulfillment.
Watching my children work on their interests in a slow and deliberate manner — and how they do more as their capability increases — has taught me these things. I feel extremely lucky for the education I’m receiving while homeschooling my kids!
SHELLI BOND PABIS is home | school | life magazine’s senior editor. She writes about her family’s homeschooling journey at www.mamaofletters.com.