Once upon a time, almost thirty years ago, I had a baby; in fact, over time, I had four babies. When my first child was born, my daughter Amy, I was elated and terrified all at once. I had never been fond of children, and now here I was spending twenty-four hours a day with one. However, I was very fond of Amy; in fact, I loved and adored her. I just didn’t know what to do with her. I hadn’t a clue.
To fill up our days in between baby activities, like bathing and diaper changing and feeding, I played music for her, sang to her, and danced with her. We strollered around the neighborhood. But while all of that held a certain fascination, I was bored, and I figured Amy must be bored too. What to do? I am not a crafts person. I do not cook. I do not garden. In fact, I am not very good at most child geared activities. Finally, it came to me. I would just be myself and share with Amy my joy of learning and critical thinking. In addition to all my love, joyful learning and critical thinking, I believed, were the best gifts I could give to my daughter, along with the skill of knowing how to learn–that is, knowing how to research when you have a question and where to find the answer.
I had been reading to Amy since she was in my womb, mostly nursery rhymes and Greek myths and fairy tales, things I thought a baby would enjoy. Now, I started reading her the newspaper, and I discussed it with her. Granted, it was a little lopsided at first, but over time, as she began to talk, the discussions became scintillating.
We also explored our walking distance and driving distance worlds, and I would explain everything I could about whatever we were exploring, and when I didn’t know something, I took her to the library to search for the answer. Amy loved the library. We learned to use the card catalogue, and I let her pick out her own books as soon as she could crawl, which meant that we finished the bottom shelf of the children’s section in the library first. I never talked to Amy in baby language; I always taught her synonyms and antonyms; and I always asked her questions, especially the question: “why?”
A truly delightful moment occurred when Amy was being fussy in the middle of the night, and I read to her Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, and she loved it. She became quiet and listened. When I stopped reading, she whimpered and then grinned when I started reading again. I began asking her what she thought about one passage or another. Of course, she couldn’t answer as she was only four months old, but she would look intently at me, and I knew that was the right thing to do, ask her questions, even when they seemed to be over her head because it gave her something to reach for.
When Amy’s brothers–Gavin, Hugh, and Grant–joined the family, I did the same thing with them–read to them, asked questions, analyzed and searched for answers. When Hugh was born, I read Narnia and poetry to Amy, age five, and Gavin, age three, while I nursed Hugh. Amy and Gavin were especially partial to T.S Eliot, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson then, which delighted my heart.
When it came time for school, I faced a quandary. Amy flat out refused to leave our mountain idyll and her brothers for any amount of time. She told me that she would run away from school, and I’d never find her, and my heart would break, but it would be all my fault for sending her to school. She said she could learn more at home. Lol, this is what all that early critical thinking unleashed.
Gordon came home from work one day with the solution–homeschooling. One of his patients was doing that with her children, and she loved it. Hmm, my good friend, Kristy, was doing that with her five children, and she encouraged me to do it too. But I was unsure. What did I know about teaching reading and math? What did I know about teaching young children? I had taught college, for heaven’s sake! But with Amy adamant about not going to school, I was left with no choice, so I did what I always do when faced with a new situation–bought lots of books about homeschooling and learned how to do it!
I must say, for me, at least, I can’t speak for my children, the twenty-four years we spent homeschooling were the most delightful years of my life. I enjoyed every day of being my children’s mom and teacher. When you think about it, everything can be a learning experience. For instance, one day the children saw a commercial with a huge, tasty looking hamburger at a local fast food restaurant. Instead of telling them my negative opinions about junk food, I popped them all in the car, and we went to buy lunch there. The look on each of their faces, when the food was delivered, was priceless, especially Gavin’s. He felt cheated. The burger was tiny, and it tasted terrible. So we discussed why the hamburger looked so good on TV–to get you to buy it. This led to a discussion about commercials and being manipulated by companies that want you to buy their products. I like to think that this early lesson has helped my children become wise consumers.
Our days were filled with math, science, reading, writing, languages, history, films, and many electives, which I let each child choose for her/himself so that there would be one class that each child definitely looked forward to. Year after year rolled by with me learning as much as my children. I had to learn how to teach my two dyslexic children to read, and I had to get four different math books for the early years because each child learned math differently from the other three. It was fascinating and illuminating, and, most of all, it was humbling. I taught my children from kindergarten through high school, but had I done a good job? I didn’t know for sure, and a few close friends confided their doubts over the years, but I somehow knew, when talking with my children, each of whom thinks deeply, broadly, and outside the box, that they would shine when they went to college and out into the world because they were consummate learners.
Amy was the first to go to our local community college, and while she finally looked forward to going to school, and she was no longer threatening, as she did in middle school, to be homeless and push a shopping cart rather than learn math, she had the jitters. She was afraid that she might fail. I told her that if she failed, it was ok because it would be a learning experience. We would examine what the problems were, and we would figure out a strategy to correct whatever needed fixing. She was nervous, and so was I, but I didn’t let her know it at the time. Both of our lives seemed like they were on the line–Amy’s academic future and the measure of my life’s work. Wow, what pressure!
Well, it’s been eleven years since Amy set off for her first class away from home. During that time, Amy, Gavin, and Grant have graduated with BA’s, earning mostly A’s, a couple of B’s, but nothing lower. They are thrilled (perhaps mightily relieved is more accurate) that our homeschooling turned out so well, and I am immensely proud of my children. Amy has her MA in English and is working at a local community college. Gavin manages a towing company and finishes his MA in Sociology this coming May. And Grant works as a security guard, interns at a non-profit that finds housing for the developmentally challenged, and is taking graduate classes in Urban Planning. He will earn his MUP (Masters in Urban Planning) in May 2014.
Our grand educational adventure that began when Amy refused to go to school has ended with Amy getting a tenure track position as an instructor in a community college. Now, that is amusing!