school, part 2

Seems like just yesterday I was writing part 1, when H decided to go to high school as a junior, after homeschooling all his life.

This time it’s Lulu. She’s starting at the same school, as a freshman. (While her brother, meanwhile, has graduated, and is off to college.)

It wasn’t a sudden decision. Lulu decided to do this a year ago, and has been planning and readying since.

It’s hard to have your kid leave a life of homeschooling, and choose school. Mr T and I will miss having Lulu around: I’ll miss her conversation throughout the day, and her cooking; Mr T will surely miss the playmate that sneaks out of the teenage girl from time to time. And it’s hard to see her leave the homeschooling support group that we’ve been part of since she was two, and her dearest friends.

I know that some homeschoolers disapprove of school, and I get a flicker of that from a few friends in our support group. But here’s the thing: Remember my last post, about following the kid? That’s what I’ve been doing with all three of my kids from the beginning. (Although, in all honesty, I’ve gotten better at it over time, as the older two taught me how well it works.) And if you follow your kids, two things happen. First, you raise kids who know themselves and have a clear sense of how they learn best.

Second, you learn to trust their wisdom.

Both H and Lulu had clear and eloquent reasons for wanting to go to school. They’d spent a lifetime choosing how they wanted to learn, and choosing school was simply the choice that seemed right at a certain point. Both had to leave behind a very safe, tight circle of wonderful friends, to do something that none of their friends had chosen for themselves. Both times, their bravery and self-determination have amazed me.

Following them hasn’t taken a leap of faith on my part. They’ve been showing me for years how wise they are about knowing how they want to learn. They’ve been assured and confident and stubborn and sometimes loud and belligerent. And as challenging as that’s been at times, they have a pretty good record of demanding the options that have ultimately been right for them. They’ve convinced me.

Yesterday, on Lulu’s second day of school, she marched into the auditions for the school musical without knowing a soul and sang. I am so proud of her. And I have full faith that she’s made the right decision.

20 comments… add one
  • Just Peaches Aug 24, 2010 @ 11:44

    Congratulations once again Patricia. It takes a strong parent, I think, to trust a child’s wisdom (and to go against the conventions of our peer groups). Although not a homeschooler myself, my son’s choice of high school would not have been one that I would have chosen for myself — it has 5,000 students in it! That being said, he craved the diversity and was attracted to the less conventional programming. Its hard to let go and admit that we don’t always have all the answers. Lets hope for strong, life-long learners!

    • patricia Aug 24, 2010 @ 22:53

      I suppose it does take a strong parent to trust a child’s wisdom. But how will they ever learn to trust themselves if we don’t trust them? (I know you’re with me on that.)

      How great that your son chose the high school that was right for him! It sounds like you don’t need to have all the answers because he has a few things figured out for himself. Kind of nice how that works out, huh?

  • marta Aug 25, 2010 @ 0:49

    It proves you did not brainwash your kids – and that is no mean feat 😉
    Although not a homeschooler, I try hard not to impose my views upon my three kids and feel I don’t always succeed… My oldest is 10 so I guess I still have time to learn better…

    Marta from Lisbon

    • patricia Aug 25, 2010 @ 8:41

      I suppose there’s a difference between brainwashing kids and sharing our views with them. My kids have always been so independent-minded that I couldn’t brainwash them if I tried. Sometimes they actually agree with my views though, amazingly enough.

      Chances are, you won’t have to learn better as they get older; they’ll naturally become more independent and you’ll probably wish they agreed with your views more often!

  • Kristin Aug 25, 2010 @ 15:30

    The photo of Lulu walking down your street headed to school made me sad. I know she wants that and I “get” all you’re saying about listening and following her needs and interests, but gosh, it feels like a loss to see her on her way.

    When I saw her at the last park day I tried not to despair in front of her and her friends and said, “It’s so exciting!” and she smiled so wide; it is clear she is happy about her choice–and it is brave one, since everything will be new and different for awhile–and yet I know she will continue to thrive–but, I wanted you to know that I will miss her.

    By the way, your last post on “following their lead” was great. I like the way you explained it and demonstrated how you do it. It’s good for people to know that there are others ways of learning and your blog models that so well.

    • patricia Aug 27, 2010 @ 8:03

      Oh Kristin, you’re killing me. I’m crying at the drop of a hat these days, preparing to take H to college. Today.

      Beyond the loss T and I will feel, not having Lulu around, I know the loss you’re talking about when I think of her with her homeschooling friends. She’s literally grown up with this group–back to when she was two, longer even than her own memories go back. To see her leaving that community is heart-wrenching.

      But I’m hopeful that these kids will continue to be important to her. She’s so close to them, and I don’t think she’ll let them disappear from her life. It’s been nice to see H staying close to his homeschooling buddies. He’s planning to see them today, before we go…

      Thanks for telling me that you’ll miss her. That means a lot.

  • stefaneener Aug 26, 2010 @ 21:29

    It’s like another young homeschooler said to me, when I said that my daughter was happy about something: “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” And they ARE supposed to be excited about trying new adventures, brave and seeking what’s best for them. It’s when we say, “You must be yourself in exactly this way, and no other” that we get it all wrong.

    Not to say she won’t be missed.

    • patricia Aug 27, 2010 @ 8:05

      Yes, all of this moving on is the way it’s supposed to be. Doesn’t make it any easier to let go, though. Sigh.

  • marta Aug 27, 2010 @ 7:32

    Although in my country there’s virtually no homeschooling, I gather from a lot of the American blogs I read on the subject that learning in school is not the “correct”, “healthy”, “natural” way to learn… I’m not saying you tried to impose this idea on your kids, just that your kids, being raised in an environment that at least to some extent promotes that view, chose to do it the other way. That’s very brave and intelligent of them and of you.

    But imagine that they had decided they wanted to do it at 8 or at 10 years old. Would you feel confident to let them follow their own lead as well?
    Would you try to dissuate them?

    One of my questions with unschooling arises precisely from this perceived “freedom to choose” quality that most of its advocates embrace. How free is it really at the end? If the kid doesn’t lead you there and if you, like me, for instance, have forgotten most stuff about 6th, 7th, 8th grade Maths, how is the kid going to get those skills? Most kids who are unschooled seem to follow either artistic or computer related careers- there don’t seem to be a lot of medicine doctors, lawyers, civil engineers, architects who were unschooled through their entire education til university.

    I don’t want to sound disrespectful to any of you. On the contrary, I am truly amazed at the freedom most of unschooled kids have to explore their own interests. I’m just wondering whether, if exposed in a sctrutured, progressing way (yeah, like in school…) to a “academic” subject like trigonometry or French grammar they wouldn’t discover a love they – and their parents – had never imagined for them…

    Anyway, good luck and a happy year to Lulu!

    Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

    • patricia Aug 27, 2010 @ 8:32

      Lots of interesting questions, Marta.

      I have to say, that while I admire unschoolers, and think that unschooling can be a fulfilling, effective way to learn, we are not unschoolers. So while I do follow my kids’ leads, I also help them balance what they’re learning. On her blog, Camp Creek, Lori refers to a “negotiated curriculum” and that’s a way to describe what we do. It’s important to me that the kids are working with math, for instance, so even if it isn’t a favorite topic, I expect them to do it. Yet, I spend time looking for resources that will appeal to them, so their learning is valuable, interesting and keyed to their personal strengths. They get final say in deciding how they want to learn something. And if there’s something in particular that they don’t want to learn, we’ll debate the pros and cons for doing it or skipping it. Math, in particular, is not an interest of my older two kids. But they understood that they might want to go to school or college one day, and didn’t want to have to learn it all later. So we found interesting ways for them to learn it through the years. (My youngest, on the other hand, loves math and the sciences–and art! So that will likely lead us in different directions…)

      If my kids had decided that they wanted to go to school at 8 or 10, I probably would have been more uncomfortable than I was when they decided to go as teens. And I would have talked to them about it an awful lot, I’m sure. But if learning at school were ultimately that important to them, I would have let them go. And I would have looked for a school that felt right to all of us.

      Usually, it seems, the kids that I know–both unschoolers and eclectic homeschoolers–manage to learn those “academic” subjects because they need to in order to meet a personal goal. They decide they want to go to a community college, or get a particular job, or–like my kids–to go to high school. So they set out to catch up on whatever they may not have done earlier, and are generally able to catch up quickly because they are internally motivated to do so.

      I think that homeschoolers do find passions for “academic” subjects like trigonometry or French grammar. It’s easy enough to notice that a child has certain passion for math, or for foreign languages. Usually, when homeschooling parents see that sort of passion in their child, they quickly look for resources outside the home to support that passion. So even though the parent may not “do” trigonometry or French grammar at home with the child, that kid is likely to find resources in the community, such as community college classes, to meet their needs. For instance, we have a local program called Quantumcamp which offers homeschoolers very advanced science classes, taught by scientists.
      There are endless opportunities like this, both in the community and online. And homeschoolers seek them out, trust me!

      I don’t notice the tendency toward just the arts and computers in our own homeschooling group–although my own son is pursuing a life in the arts. On the contrary, I see two kids headed toward engineering, a few more toward the sciences. One younger teen is interested in statistics; another friend is considering a career in the culinary arts. Their interests seem as diverse as the interests of the kids my son met in school. If anything, the homeschoolers seem to have a stronger sense of what they are interested in, and what they want to pursue than the kids my son graduated with.

      Just one perspective on your questions, Marta. Hope it helped! You didn’t sound disrespectful, just curious. I’m glad you felt comfortable asking the questions.

      • marta Aug 28, 2010 @ 0:45

        Wow! Thanks for your answer, Patricia! I had read about your “eclectic homeschooling” before but now I got a fuller, brighter perspective. I think it sounds the best of two worlds, really.
        I also read and comment (very ocasionally) on Camp Creek and had never understood that more “structured” and “traditional” approach for certain subjects was acceptable in a eclectic/unschooling/project-based learning environment.

        Also, I guess I tend to feel fascinated by the radical unschooling leaning and then crawl back in fear of it being too radical… But the eclectic / un-traditional homeschooling blogs I follow don’t seem to detail a lot about the more “tedious” and effort-involving aspects of learning certain subjects…

        I’ve said time and again that I’d like to shed all my fears and weaknesses and at least try to homeschool my kids and the number 1 reason I don’t do it is because they (and I) would be complete aliens in our own society. I guess that if in continental Europe we had the resources you name (I’m in awe!!!), it would be easier to spread the homeschooling option (in some countries it is downright illegal). Or, then again, it could all start the other way round – pioneer homeschooling pushing for the resources to be created… Maybe during my kids’ kids lifetime… 😉

        Marta from Lisbon

      • patricia Aug 31, 2010 @ 23:09

        Marta, I think even the most radical of unschoolers would approve of a structured or traditional approach to learning certain subjects–if that’s what the child chooses. The child’s own desire is what seems key.

        The only reason I felt free to choose homeschooling for my family was that some brave pioneers blazed the trail first. I would never try to push anyone to homeschool if he or she wasn’t comfortable with the idea–and I know it would be an incredibly hard decision if you didn’t have the support of others. But I’m grateful for those pioneers who made it possible for us, and hope that there will continue to be others, especially in the places where homeschooling doesn’t seem possible. Maybe even in Portugal…

  • susan Aug 29, 2010 @ 14:31

    How did I miss out on advance news of this big event? I guess I just don’t make it to park day. I think it is fantastic when kids say they want something and do it. A homeschooled kid like Lulu walks into school with her eyes open. She is doing it for herself and not for the abstract “them”.

    • patricia Aug 31, 2010 @ 23:16

      Yes, you must get to park day more often!

      I think you’re right about the “eyes open” notion. It’s a whole different ball of wax when a kid attends school because he or she has decided to. Internal motivation affects everything. Everything.

  • By Word of Mouth Aug 29, 2010 @ 15:37

    Since I just love reading you, so when I was asked to pay forward an award! I knew I had to award you! Please head over and pick it up … So HUGE thank you, you are an inspiration 🙂

    • patricia Aug 31, 2010 @ 23:31

      Why, thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever received a blog award before! I especially love that you found me via my Mothering essay. That piece will always hold a special place in my heart, as my first published (in writing) work.

      (But I hope you won’t take away my award if I admit to being a big Monty Python fan. Watching those shows with my dad was one of my favorite things when I was twelve or thirteen. I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep all night and I work all day…)

  • Susan Paulukonis Aug 29, 2010 @ 21:00

    Hugs, Tricia. Amazing adventures await you all, but transitions are hard.

    I was just telling my sister that I felt happy and excited for Annie to go to UCSD, but that I’ll still cry when I drop her off (September 18). 🙂

    • patricia Aug 31, 2010 @ 23:37

      Oh yes, those damn transitions. And one wasn’t enough; we had to do the college thing too.

      Steel yourself for that drop-off. The last hug might crack your heart open.

  • molly Aug 30, 2010 @ 14:19

    i wish i had more time to read through all the comments – but now avery is really done at the library! just real quick, though, i’ve believed for the last few years that one of the ultimate acts of unschooling is to allow your kids to go to school when they choose to. avery’s already talking about her potential public school plans for next year. eek. middle school. but the girl knows herself and knows what’s good for her. i’m just here to facilitate (and sometimes play devil’s advocate :), and of course be home when they decide to come back.

    • patricia Aug 31, 2010 @ 23:43

      “one of the ultimate acts of unschooling is to allow your kids to go to school when they choose to”

      You got it, sister. That’s what I think too, so I can never quite understand the people that quietly disapprove of the choices my kids have made. It’s almost like they think I didn’t try hard enough. Or maybe they think I tried too hard.

      No matter. Kids who know themselves know what they want. I’m crossing my fingers that Avery will decide to keep homeschooling through her middle school years but if not, she has one wise mother supporting her.

      The last part of your last line made me smile. Real big.

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