Although our homeschooling is very fluid and does not fit neatly into an academic year like a typical school, I still feel a tug in the fall to tidy up the previous 12 months so that we may move on into a fresh year. The activity that helps me make this transition each year is writing progress notes for my kids which, as I detailed here, is a personal letter that I write to each of them listing their studies, accomplishments, and activities over the past 12 months and commenting on how they have learned and grown.
This year I was finding it difficult to write a progress note for my daughter. What has she learned about science? Math? History? Has she completed any workbooks, textbooks, or curricula, to somehow prove what she has studied and learned? I was stuck – I was thinking very conventionally and my daughter is not conventional. I thought perhaps if I set some goals for my homeschool it would help me write my progress notes. But I’m not good at setting goals–they feel rigid to me. Homeschooling is something that simply unfolds for us, and in so many unpredictable ways. How could I anticipate where this path would lead?
Yet I think that considering our homeschool from a more objective perspective could be a very good exercise. I just need different, less-limiting terminology. I asked myself, “Why did I choose homeschooling? Why do my kids want to continue to be homeschooled?” To write my kids’ progress notes, I needed to know, “What are our reasons for homeschooling? What are my jobs as a homeschooling parent to these two unique individuals?” After all, I don’t homeschool so that I can make my kids learn like kids learn in school but rather so that I can support them as they learn and grow in their own ways and toward their own potential.
Once I started thinking less conventionally, writing my kids’ progress notes came easily. I would like to share with you how I started my daughter’s note, which I am copying with her permission.
I guess if my job as a homeschooling parent is to make you learn what kids your age who go to school are learning, then perhaps I am not doing a very good job. But, if my job is:
- to expose you to a wide variety of ideas and activities,
- to give you the time and space you need to explore, think, and reflect,
- to support you in your chosen interests and give you time to pursue them,
- to help you learn to live a healthy lifestyle,
- to give you the opportunity to learn and practice life skills, and
- to give you the nurturing time you need with me, your brother, and with friends,
then perhaps we are doing alright…
The letter goes on from there and outlines our past year of learning and living together. One thing that really stood out to me were some of the activities that I decided to put under the category of science. While my daughter has not completed any science curriculum, she is clearly learning about the natural world around her. Through books and asking questions, she has taught herself about the plants on our land with a special interest in finding wild edibles. She has spent time volunteering at the local veterinary clinic and has helped me care for several sick animals this past year. At age 12 my daughter could give injections and set up an IV to deliver subcutaneous fluids to a sick rabbit. She could help put a tube down a chicken’s throat, test to make sure it was in the crop (and not in the chicken’s lungs) and deliver fluid and medication. Through her own interests, initiative, and real life experience, my daughter is becoming confident and competent; at the same time, through casual reading and general activities, she is also absorbing most of what kids are learning in school as they work through a science curriculum. (And I just want to say that, although I mentioned science, I do not feel that what we do needs to fit into school subjects. Overall, most of what my kids are learning does not fit neatly into some schoolish subject area and, often, those hard-to-categorize things are the most important lessons they are learning.)
I wish I had set some goals years ago – if not rigidly adhered to, goals could be enlightening and fun to look back on. What I see now is that my kids are not cynical about learning. Instead of needing bribery or threats to make them learn, they are self motivated and enjoy learning. That would have been a great goal, way back when I started along this path of parenting and homeschooling. And because my kids have always been involved in the learning process and have made, with guidance but not coercion, their own learning decisions, they are able to set their own learning goals now. I’m here to support them, not tell them what to do or make their learning fit into neat categories.