Homeschooling 10 years in

On the tenth anniversary of  the September 11th attacks on America when there were memorials and reflections upon the day and what it meant to the world I paused in my reflecting to recall how I felt that day about homeschooling. It was my daughter’s official 5th day of homeschooling kindergarten. We were making green play dough when the news of the awful destruction happened. Our whole family and neighborhood went in to shock and mourning for many weeks, but for one minute while the news sunk in I took a deep breath and was grateful to have both of my young kids by my side throughout that day and the days to come.

Now ten years truly have gone by and during that vast expanse of time we have encountered all other sorts of feelings about homeschooling. We have struggled to find curriculum that would make our lives easier and failed, we have created our own curriculum from following our kids’ interests and we have taken full advantage of what life in the city of Chicago has to offer homeschooled kids. It took a few years to slough off the fear that we were missing something, to relax about sometimes missing something and focus instead on living and experiencing the moment and learning what we would from it. That might sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but consider how one spring we took our nine year old daughter,and our 5 year old son to Madison Wisconsin to attend a zine festival. She had just gotten excited about reading and writing. My husband and I had always been excited about zines, and had made many over the years. We all needed a weekend getaway. It was a perfect unschooling adventure.

We took a bunch of copies of our zine Relaxed Homeskool and my daughter took a bunch of copies of a zine she and a friend had made titled The Stereotype. We met several amazing zinesters, attended workshops, made friends, and connections. As a result of one of those connections my daughter’s writing was later published in a book, she was invited to read an excerpt of her work at a public event and she attended a gala opening night of a movie. She wasn’t even 10 yet. My husband and I didn’t fare quite so well, but what I recall most from that weekend was talking to the man in the booth next to me about life. He had a great zine and told us about his wife and son in Iowa. When I asked why they weren’t there he explained that they were taking their black belt test that weekend. He said in his town there were two options for kids, you could take karate or piano. My brain quivered. Do you mean to say that those were the only weekend classes I inquired. No, those were the only classes. Ever. I quickly flew my brain back in time to my younger years growing up rural and by the seaside. There were a few karate and dance places. But mainly there was my bike, the woods, a beach, a puddle with tadpoles, a treefort. The options were many but all natural and without scheduling overlaps. I had been under the false assumption that this kind of life no longer existed. People told me this all of the time. Even from the rural place I grew up. No one lets their kids play outside and do things anymore. Its too dangerous. I had spent the better part of the year in Chicago sifting through emails about all of the things my child could do in the homeschooling community. She could be in Girl Scouts (we went for that and got a little nature fix after all. But I also got to be a girl scout leader for 3 years). She could take a ballet, modern or bellydancing class. Clay, circus, Lego engineer, science experiments, open gym, drama, Spanish, book club, field trips up the wazoo, archeology digs,knitting, art, guitar lessons, piano lessons, soccer, dodgeball, karate, bike riding club and sea scouts. To name just a few.

We tried a lot of it and made a bunch of homeschooling and unschooling friends that helped me work my way through my own philosophy on educational and practical experiences. But the truth is, that there were times when I felt exhausted from the back and forth commutes to each activity. There were times where we ate in the car or had squabbles over getting out of the door in time to make the class. There were times my kids didn’t want to attend a class but we had paid so we were committed and going. My son sometimes suffered from being dragged around to my daughter’s activities rather than having time to explore the world in his own time and space. What I learned from the zinester that day was that life didn’t have to be breakneck just because it could be. Having many choices had led me to feel that life was richer and deeper and more full of potential. But it also made me try too hard to do everything and be everywhere so that my kids wouldn’t miss an opportunity.

That was the biggest lesson homeschooling taught me in Chicago. Slow down. Allow yourself and your kids to unschool, unfold and find their own passions. Don’t sign them up for everything but don’t hide away either. And although my children rarely get to ride their bikes though woods to a treefort they built themselves, I took a long view of what was so powerful about those experiences I had as a child-the fact that I was on my own sometimes, able to think, explore and learn from my own actions how the world worked.  I tired applying those opportunities to my children’s city life. As they grew older that meant letting them have a lot of say in what they wanted to learn about, trusting them to make independent choices and to move around the city independently. Ten years of coaching is what homeschooling my kids has amounted to in order to raise free thinkers who are not afraid to go for what they want. It hasn’t been all smooth and simple, and who knows if it will be a complete success but it really has been a great adventure, even for the the facilitator that is me.  Although I have listed many things for homeschoolers to do in Chicagoland over the years and will continue to, I hope you and your family will find things on that list the things that give your children more autonomy and strength.


One Response to “Homeschooling 10 years in”

  1. on 02 Nov 2011 at 10:44 am Laura Hagen

    I love your post, I just started homeschooling a student and after being in the classroom it is really hard to slow down and let them take some of the lead. A great lesson from someone who has already been there.

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