“Mostly I just get to play a lot”

Recently my grandfather passed away and we went down to Chicago for the wake and funeral and such. My mother reported to me that at the wake one of my uncles asked my six year old, Collin, what grade he was in. Collin promptly replied, “I’m in first grade, but I don’t go to school. I homeschool.”
“Oh you do!”
“Yeah, but most days we don’t homeschool either.”
My surprised uncle asked, “Well, what do you do?”
“Mostly I just get to play a lot.”
Apparently my uncle didn’t know how to respond to this. I’m sure my mother was wondering what in the blazes is going on in our house as well. The truth is that we sit down for what Collin would think of as “school work” pretty intermittently. It’s happening more often as my 10 year old is getting older and approaching the age where he really needs to start creating output rather than just soaking everything up. However, while Collin seems to think he spends all his time playing (when Mom isn’t making them perform slave labor), that hardly means he isn’t being educated. Just that night on the hour car ride home from the wake we had a long conversation about what would happen if everything was free or only cost a dollar and the barter systems which existed before money. Then Collin asked why we couldn’t feel the earth spinning around which lead to a long explanation of motion, acceleration, Newton’s laws, force and the fluid in our inner ear which allows us to detect movement. How many 6 year olds get real lessons in macro-economics, physics and physiology in a typical day? Add in the poem he wrote for my sister on the way to the wake, the math we used to figure out time, speed, change and figuring out whether he had enough allowance money to afford the two toys he wanted and I think he probably had more learning in one day than most kids get in a week of school. Of course, if you asked him he would have told you that we didn’t do school that day.
I know people who do “school at home” homeschooling and that’s cool. However, after 3 years I’ve come to realize that it just doesn’t work for us. I actually think that the times I have forced my oldest to sit down and follow my lesson plans have often been counter-productive and reduced his desire to explore things on his own. Not that there aren’t times when my kids don’t need to buckle down and get something specific done. I just don’t see it as our primary means of educating. But it’s hard. We’ve been so indoctrinated to think of school work and learning as synonymous that it’s easy to think we’re not doing enough. Then again, as anyone who homeschools knows, the education we’re providing our kids is so much more than the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Our kids are learning character, how to run homes, critical thinking skills, how to get along with people of all different ages, start businesses, plan their day, take responsibility for themselves and so much more.
I once read a complaint about homeschooling from a principle in a state where parents were required to keep a log of their educational activities and turn it over to the school district. He said, “I’ll get logs that say things like ‘pet cat died. Buried it in the back yard with a little ceremony. Went inside and had lunch’. And there’s nothing I can do about it! It’s ridiculous!” I’m sure that this same principle wouldn’t bat an eye if a teacher wanted have a little ceremony and talk a bit about death with his/her students when a classroom pet dies. He could probably even see the educational value of it. Yet when a homeschool family does the same thing, “it’s ridiculous!” Apparently if it happends in the classroom it’s educational, but if it happens in our homes, it doesn’t count.
It just goes to show that people who oppose homeschooling because they think it’s limiting for the kids just don’t get it. My kids live in the real world, not a cinder block room in a school where they have to ask permission to empty their bowels.
I’m sure what we do isn’t for everyone, but I’m sure glad it’s for us!

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