Contributed by Jennie Marable
If I read another article or book or blog post invoking the word ‘season’ or ‘rhythm,’ I’m going to set my hair on fire. Here’s the thing–I get it. I GET IT. Schedules are good. Recognizing exactly where you are in life and going with it is good. Everything in due time = GOOD.
I’ve been steeped in season-speak because since last spring, I’ve been thrashing around trying to figure out what, exactly, we are doing, for school. Some fellow homeschoolers seem to feel the pressure most keenly around the kindergarten year–that’s when I thought I would start getting SERIOUS, whatever that means. But then my kids turned four last fall, and they are suddenly different–they want more–so I thought I should hit the books, get a curriculum, do a THING. A structured thing.
This internal pressure reached a boiling point when I decided to withdraw from our co-op. Co-op saved us from homeschool purgatory, the halfway place where we had decided to do this thing (what are we doing??) and told people we were doing it (doing what?!), and then life went on exactly as it had before, inspiring grave inner doubts that we were, in fact, homeschooling. Because it kind of felt like we were just announcing that we were homeschooling, but not actually doing anything to school at home, and I wanted a THING– a uniform, a merit badge, a secret handshake.
Anyway, co-op was a thing. It gave us something to tell the grandparents, something to present–see! socialization! learning in a group setting! a thing! But co-op was also a poor fit–so after months of trying to make it work, I pressed eject. And when I did, I really panicked because now we were back to doing nothing. And co-op was great! The kids were great, the other parents were great–if I couldn’t hack it there, we were going to be alone forever and my kids were going to grow up weird and have no practical skills and I was going to fail, fail, fail…I then flirted with the idea of unschooling, because it seems like you don’t have to have a THING to do it, but since I’ve yet (as far as I know) to meet any actual unschoolers, all I have are virtual examples, and I think I lack the requisite desire to spend an absolutely insane amount of time at water parks (by which I mean any time at all).
So what’s an aspiring home educator to do? I sweated over this until the day when my daughter wandered over to where I had been doggedly trying to get my couch positioned at a jaunty angle that disguises its visibly wonky leg, moving it back and forth by a matter of degrees for probably a really (really) long time. Anyway. She came sidling up to me, a book in her hand, and said, “so. are you up for a little Shakespeare?” My point? We’re fine. The kids are alright. No capital-T thing necessary. I need to stay tuned to what they are excited about and toss as much fodder as possible in their path. I’ve set some broad goals for the year–swimming, riding bikes, maybe reading–they seem ready, but I’m not sure. I’ve also let go of freaking out about Mandarin and Suzuki violin. We aren’t rich and I’m not a tiger mother. If they have a passion for music or a desire to learn a second language, we’ll figure it out. We. Meaning, get a job, kid. And I’ll drive you to your piano lessons. And once I took a breath and stopped worrying about what I should be doing, I was able to take stock of what we have been doing, successfully. Joyfully, even. And that joy was why we made this leap in the first place, so I’m feeling pretty good.
Without further ado, our year four curriculum:
Practice Makes Perfect: The twins have known their alphabet and how to count to 20 since they were toddlers, but new ways of practicing old tricks make them feel accomplished and, bonus!, produce new tricks. They recently started writing out letters, unprompted and unaided, and both have started tuning into time, addition and subtraction. So we sing the alphabet, and we count, ad nauseum.
Foundations: We read a lot, and we’ve started reading the stories that tie it all together–fairytales, folktales, myths, Shakespeare, the bible. Being human 101. It’s a wonderful time to do this–the twins are as receptive to Paradise Lost as they are to Chicka Chicka Boom. It’s all grist for the mill.
Life Skills: This looks different for everyone. For me it means having the ability to sit quietly for long periods of time, an appreciation for beauty, being able to make good food for yourself, considering the feelings of others, and making polite conversation. Relishing the happiness that comes from independence. They love this class.
The Domestic Arts: Keeping a nice home. Being responsible for your own mess. Taking care of your things. Repairing instead of replacing. Taking joy in daily tasks. Recognizing the beauty that results from drudgery. Making a contribution.
Music Appreciation: May their tastes be catholic, and may one of them be able to carry a tune. Failing that, may they appreciate the joys of both silence and noise.
Botany: An appreciation for the natural world, being conversant in our local flora and fauna, the ability to grow something from a seed, the discipline to tend something fragile.
Science: Encouraging the childish habit of questions that lead to more questions, and not squelching their belief that the world is full of magic and we should walk around in a state of wonder, always.
Geography: I can’t afford to take them abroad, or even to Seattle right now, but I can take them all over the universe in books, and encourage a desire to go and see the world for themselves.
Art Appreciation: Making aesthetic judgements, forming an opinion, having tastes of your own. MAKING. Being an audience of one. The courage to show your work to others. Failing. Not caring what anyone thinks, ever. Connecting. Creating. Seeing.
P.E.: Something that I’m happily outsourcing.
Electives: Paying attention to their passions has taken us down some unexpected roads. Right now I am elbow deep in architecture. And wrapped up in that we’ve got math, history, religion, art–the list goes on and on–all happening because they want to know how things get built.
In conclusion: Mostly, they just play. Because they are four. And next year they will be five, and then six, and so on. And what they need to do, both now and in the foreseeable future is eat, sleep, and play. The learning part is incidental, they just can’t help themselves. And that’s our year four. What are you doing with your days?