My daughter is 17. She has been stepping into herself lately and many people in our lives are noticing it with pleasure. I was talking to her about that, trying to explain why we are so pleased. Luckily, I realized I would be better served writing it and just letting her enjoy the attention so I stopped.
I homeschool my kids. I take pains to tell people I respect teachers and I believe strongly in collective support for child education. But the longer I stay outside the educational system that we all believe is the standard for educating kids, the more I wish for a different option for all kids everywhere.
My daughter went to kindergarten. We were living in a rural area of northern California. The school was a satellite school for kids who were too far from the town to go to the main school. The year we were there it contained 18 kids from 6-14 and 2 teachers. There was a teacher's aide too, her son was the 14 year old and he had downs syndrome. She was hired to be there and help with all the kids. I wasn't paid, but I stayed there and helped every day because it was too far to drive home again, and because my daughter was shy. My son who was 1 at the time also went most days. The kids helped each other with their work. They played games to learn. The teachers were older and counter cultural and pragmatic about balancing the requirements they had to meet for the school district with the needs of the children. There was a gate the kids walked through to get into the school yard, and it has the word Aspire carved above it. In my opinion, that school at that time was the best of what the hippies ever cared about.
But then we moved back to southern California. My daughter in that setting hadn't made one friend all year long. I went to her teacher at one point and told her I was afraid something was wrong with my daughter. She looked at me a second and then said no, she's fine. I've lost track of that teacher, but she changed my life. Because when I thought about enrolling my girl into a class of 25 kids and not being welcomed every day into the classroom with her, I didn't believe that would be a good choice for her. And instead of deciding something was wrong with her, I decided something was wrong with the choice to educate her that way.
The first few months we struggled because I would dutifully try to "teach" her, and she would resist my efforts. Finally I gave up and started looking at the schools. I was very frustrated with her. She knew it. And she went off somewhere private in the house the location of which is still a mystery to me, and she taught herself to read in a manner of a few weeks.
Trusting my daughter and son to lead their own learning and autonomy has been a rocky process for me. I know some notable unschoolers, and I don't feel comfortable claiming that title. I have traveled between trusting the kids and enriching their lives and nagging the kids on responsibilities I think they are ditching. I'm far from being a perfect parent but I have grown into a better person by letting my kids teach me how to support them.
Eventually we found a like-minded group of families who were bravely trusting their kids to lead them out of the beliefs they had about early child education and parenting. We have all watched the kids grow into themselves, and we have seen all the struggles as we land on the distant shore reconnected so beautifully wrote about. The courage that it takes to disconnect from the common wisdom of childrearing humbles me. I think the only way to do it is a daily process, not knowing how far you will end up from your starting place.
The reason everyone is so thrilled about my daughter's growth is that she is finally smiling more than scowling. She looks comfortable talking to people and she is starting to try new things. For so many years she would talk to people if they talked to her, but she was a loner. School would have been too stressful with her with the constant social component.
There are kids in our circle of friends who would be medicated if they were in school. There are kids who would have been so horribly bullied in a school setting. There are kids who didn't read until they were 12. That would be impossible to accommodate in a school setting because by third grade a significant portion of the instructional material is being read by the children. But these kids take to reading when they finally get it. Most of them have been read to for years so their comprehension is farther along than the mechanics of reading. Their speed in catching up to grade level reading is swift.
The parents I know have held their ground while their families and friends drill their kids, trying to see if they are learning anything. They have endured the serious and concerned talks asking if the late reader is making progress. For me, it was so scary sometimes allowing my daughter the space she needed. I wondered if she would ever find a way to grow into a comfortable space in herself. I held my breath for what seemed to be months sometimes and trusted her to find her way through. So when parents come to me and notice how my daughter is blossoming, they are also telling me it's okay to breath and to know that we all did well by our kids in trusting them to grow at their own pace, and in the way that felt natural to them.
I look back at my beliefs about childhood education and I feel I was brainwashed. I didn't know, when we started out to homeschool that childhood could be a self directed journey to self. Seeing child after child find their way through on their own terms and watching them grow into self-motivated interesting young adults has been a life changing experience for me. I wish more people the chance to experience this joy.