in his hands

boy holding pomelo

boy holding pomelo

Because I like to have a photo with each post. Because I thought I could make one more contribution to yellow week. Because the pomelo looks like a planet. And because the image itself could be a metaphor for the words below.

Our homeschool group sponsors a history fair each spring. Kids display exhibits on an interest related to history. We encourage them to include an interactive element–something to do, or taste, or try. Kids take turns visiting exhibits, and staying at their own exhibits to answer questions. They also create stamps or stickers related to their topic, which they use to mark visitors’ passports. It’s always a fun, inspiring morning.

I try to help my kids come up with a display idea a couple months before the fair. Since we’re studying India these days, I figured I’d help them come up with projects related to that country. Lulu quickly came up with her idea of making an Indian dollhouse–although her interest is flagging a bit, not helped by the fact that she made a set of Fimo pots and utensils for her kitchen, which I inadvertently burned while preheating the oven to make pizza on Friday night. Doh!

Mr. T has been playing with options for a few weeks. First he said he wanted to make some sort of forest sculpture, so we researched Indian trees–mangroves and banyans. I was especially excited about the idea of him making a banyan tree out of Model Magic, because he loves that material, and because we read In the Heart of the Village: The World of the Indian Banyan Tree. It’s a beautiful book about a small Indian village and how life revolves around the old banyan tree in the village center. Mr. T could make animals to go in the tree! He could make shrines to Hindu deities at its trunk! He could talk about how banyan trees factor into so many traditional Indian tales!

But no. Mr. T decided he didn’t want to do that. So we shifted gears–me feeling a little disappointed. We talked about doing a project about Hindu deities. Mr. T has always loved deity legends, which began when he first listened to the wonderful  D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths on disc when he was four. He’s gone on to listen to them again and again and again. Last year he learned about Norse gods for the history fair, this time using D’Aulaires’Book of Norse Myths, and The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God, among others.

We’ve been reading the fun Little Book of Hindu Deitieswritten and charmingly illustrated by Sanjay Patel, an Indian-American animator at Pixar. We played with the idea of making a comic book about Hindu deities. This seemed like an intriguing idea, given Mr. T’s love of drawing fanciful characters.

But again, no. Mr. T just wasn’t excited about these ideas, nor any of the many others we discussed.

I knew what the problem was.

As interested as he is in India, in the tales we’re reading, and the food, and the photos and the videos we’ve seen, what’s he’s really excited about right now is–space.

It started when he watched Wall-E once again, and started asking questions about galaxies. Then he started inventing his own galaxies, and journaling about the moon. When I was too busy to constantly read him books about the planets, he pulled out the books himself and started studying charts and using his budding reading skills to learn about moons and rings and orbits. I’m amazed what he’s picked up on his own.

I knew what I needed to do: I needed to let go of my idea of an India project. So I asked, Hey, Buddy. What would you think about doing your history project about the history of the planets? 

His eyes grew wide.

If you want to, you could make papier-mache models like your brother did when he was your age. Now his eyes were as wide as his brother’s old scale model of Mars. Yes! he said. Yes!

So we’ll do it. We’ll whip up some flour paste and rip up some newspaper. He’ll make a mess with paste and paint and I’m sure he’ll love it. Since he’s doing this for a history fair, not a science fair, I’ll help him focus on how people have interacted with the planets: how they discovered them, how they named them. Which will bring us back to those gods–we’ll work Hindu deities into his project yet.

But in the end, it’s his project. One of my biggest challenges as a parent is knowing how much to support; how much to let go. It’s an art, really, offering just the right amount of enthusiasm and help to make their ideas come to life. It’s an art that I make a mess of constantly; luckily I have three fabulous teachers, trying to help me get it right. Trying to help me leave things in their hands.

12 comments… add one
  • Susan Feb 23, 2009 @ 7:43

    Fantastic post–really beautifully written. It really is an art–offering just the right amount of enthusiasm and scaffolding–but not too much. I know that feeling of sadness about something they decide not to do.

    But it looks like you have the art down. I love how the title and the photo and the last line hold it all together. I look forward to seeing Lulu and Mr. T’s projects at the History Fair.

  • stefaneener Feb 23, 2009 @ 10:24

    It’s lovely the way you support without smothering. Now, when all of mine say, “Nope, not interested. Don’t want to do anything. . .” then I’m sort of at a loss. Wonder if in fact I’m not doing enough supporting, or too little. Wondering if there is a possibility that you can “fail” homeschooling.

    Sigh. I’ll just keep handing out tissues here at casa de sickness.

  • gina Feb 23, 2009 @ 17:25

    It’s so good to hear that others- others that have been homeschooling for longer than I- still struggle with trusting the process. Although that means there is a long, long road ahead of me, at least I know it’s not JUST me. 🙂

  • patricia Feb 23, 2009 @ 19:04

    Thanks, Susan!

    Stefaneener, I don’t think you’re failing when I watch Thing 4 play piano like she did on Thursday! Clearly there are some interests bubbling in your house.

    I guess around here, there’s always been an expectation that they have to do *something*, so they’ve learned that it might as well be interesting. It might as well be what they want to do, rather than what Mama might suggest.

    And, Gina, I’ve learned to trust the process. I just don’t always trust *my role* in the process. 🙂 I’ll never be an expert–but it gets more interesting every year.

  • susan Feb 23, 2009 @ 21:32

    I guess I am still not sure that I trust the process, if by the process we mean unschooling or child-led learning. Some kids seem to be born with interests and great drive and others may need more help discovering what their interests are.

    Evelyn never asked to learn to play piano. I am quite sure that she never would have asked. But after 5 years of lessons, 5 years of making her practice 3-5 times per week she began to be able to play pieces she loved and now she loves to play and my role as enforcer of practice has diminished tremendously.

    I am always worrying that the kids will miss out on something they would have really loved because it seemed too hard and they didn’t want to bother. This happened to me, so I know this is not a merely theoretical worry.

  • patricia Feb 23, 2009 @ 22:50

    When I said I trust the process, I meant the process of homeschooling in general. I don’t consider myself an unschooler. I can see how unschooling can work for others, if they believe in it and are willing to follow through with it completely, but it isn’t the style for me–and I’m not sure it would be the best style for my kids.

    Our style of homeschooling is led by the kids’ interests, but I have a definite hand in it. It’s a cooperative effort. If one of my kids doesn’t love math, I’m not willing to say he can skip doing math. I’m willing to help him find methods and resources that interest him, but I still feel a responsibility to make sure he’s doing it in some way. I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure they’re doing a reasonable amount of interesting learning each day–but they help decide what that learning looks like. As the adult, I take the longer view, and try to help them keep their educations somewhat balanced.

    It’s always a bit of a dance–sometimes I have a stronger hand in what’s going on, sometimes the kids really take control. Sometimes things are smooth and wonderful; sometimes we’re working something out and there’s tension. That’s why I consider working with them an art: there’s no perfect balance, and we have to adapt constantly.

    Susan, I also find myself wondering if I’m pushing too much at times, or not pushing enough at others. Sometimes I worry about it, but mostly I’ve come to accept it as part of our process.

    I think there’s a lot to be learned in the give and take. We’re all learning to understand ourselves and each other, we’re learning to communicate, and we’re each refining our own interests and values. The kids learn, and I learn and I think we’re all better off for it.

    Thanks, Susan, for starting such an interesting discussion!

  • gina Feb 24, 2009 @ 6:13

    The process I was talking about was homeschooling. Although when I speak of homeschooling, I speak of unschooling- because that’s what “homeschooling” is for my family- by it’s simplest definition. Child interest led learning. Led. Meaning they lead, and I facilitate. With Shaye, that means standing back and gently offering ideas of how to cover the fullest amount of areas using just one topic of interest. Often, I am amazed by how many “subjects” are covered when learning about one topic of interest. With Mackenna that means providing lots of phonics activites to help her learn to read- which is an interest of hers right now. What I mean by TRUSTING it is – not worrying so much about what the school officials will say when our homeschooling days don’t mimic a “school day”. Or what the relatives will say- for the same reasons. I read a quote on a blog the other day- I believe the book “Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe” and it was said “Why would you want to replicate a system so cleary broken” or something along those lines. And I don’t. But I also want my children to receive a well balanced education in the long run. Right now, I am taking the same approach and using the same reminder I used when worrying about feeding a one year old. They may not have a perfectly balanced diet every day, but if when you step back and view the whole week, or even the whole month and it is balanced- she is doing okay.

  • patricia Feb 24, 2009 @ 7:53

    Thanks for joining back in the discussion, Gina!

    I especially like your analogy of comparing a well-balanced education with a well-balanced diet. I think that’s especially apt.

    I still worry some days that we’re not doing enough, or we’re doing too much of some things and not enough of others. But I agree with you that it manages to balance out overall. I have the added comfort of having a 16-year-old who has learned this way. And after years of following his interests–but also wondering and worrying–I can see now that he has both the passions and skills he needs to do what he wants to with his life. And that’s pretty much what I hoped he’d get out of homeschooling.

  • susan Feb 24, 2009 @ 8:18

    I lost faith in homeschooling once and put Ev and Clem into 3rd and 1st grade. And pulled them out after 3 weeks!

    I blogged about it here. For some reason I don’t seem to own this blog anymore.

    Since then I have never doubted homeschooling, but I have wavered quite a bit in my approach–from something close to unschooling to something a bit more like the classical education described in Well Trained Mind (done mostly in the car when they are 1) bored anyway and 2) strapped in seats.)

    I never try to have my kids do school at home–I like the line you used, Gina, “why would you want to replicate a system so clearly broken.” I would like to do only child-led learning and trust in that. When we are doing that the kids are happiest. But as a grown up hopeless procrastinator myself in need of support (or deadlines) to fulfill my goals, I often worry that I am not doing enough.

  • melissa s. Feb 26, 2009 @ 8:32

    this is exactly what I love about homeschooling: the willingness to respectfully follow a child’s interests and trust that they will lead us (and themselves) to everything they need to learn, when they’re ready to learn it. great post!

  • Theresa Sep 18, 2012 @ 13:48

    This post was so helpful to me! we are in our third year homeschooling and I have definitely gotten more relaxed, but I am really trying to get to a point where my girls are excited about learning and taking responsibility for their learning. This post helped, as did your How We Homeschool post. Thank you.

    • patricia Sep 20, 2012 @ 14:34

      Theresa, I’m so glad that three-and-a-half years after I wrote this post, it’s still helpful to someone! It took time for me to learn how to let my kids take the lead. It can be a gradual process, but the parent’s desire to get there is one of the most essential steps. Best of luck to you and your girls!

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