When I first started homeschooling my son 8 years ago, I could have never imagined the ways in which our lives and our family would come to be defined by something as seemingly simple as the process of learning. All parents know the joy of rediscovering the world through their children's eyes, but few get the privilege of having that sense of wonder infuse every moment of the day.
Gradually, homeschooling became less of a description of what we do and more of a kind of tribal affiliation -- a practice full of arcane rituals like "park day" and with its own language which marked us as being "other." At first, in many ways, it was like being in high school all over again: finding a group to fit into, forging an identity, defying pressures to conform. And as in high school, we just didn't fit in. In the beginning, we hung out with the radical unschooler posse. We didn't need no stinkin' curriculum. Sir Talks-a-lot was going to be wild and unfettered by conventional instruction. But the problem was that it just didn't work for us. I have a tendency to fall out of time without a modicum of structure, to forget that days pass into nights and children require food and drink to survive. Besides, as I soon discovered, both Sir and I actually LIKED all those forbidden fruit -- the online educational games and curricula, the books, the experiments, the classes and workshops and even (gasp) the worksheets. Life became a whirlwind of impromptu discovery combined with carefully planned intellectual tidbits and treats. We moved, we grooved, we moved on. From one state to another, looking all the while for a sect of our own. By now, we were calling ourselves "eclectic" learners, the generic term for those of us who want to do everything in every way possible. We're the buffet learners, not content to stick to one cuisine. We want to pile it all on our plates, muddy the flavors, and come up with something distinctive. Hand us a basket of Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, some Trivium, and Multiple Intelligences and we'll cook you a curriculum that will knock your socks off.
It hasn't been easy, though. Not only because the responsibility of educating a human being is daunting, but also because Sir Talks-a-lot and Lady Chatterbox (who is still rather new in the world) are not neurotypical kids. One of the scare tactics that the guidance counselor used when we decided to remove our clearly quirky Sir from kindergarten was that at some point, we were going to require school services to help our son. Now, since I had sent the school a happy, confident, eager to learn child who was transformed into a 4 yr old who came home despondent and asking whether or not he was a "mowon" and how he could make himself die, I was not at all perturbed by the threat of no further "help." Still the years that followed with Sir were the alphabet soup years where the experts weighed in or I stumbled upon a variety of letters intended to codify all of his idiosyncrasies into a neat package. "What's on the menu tonight?" "We have a real delicacy for you. A tender, braised young HG boy with a side of SID." "Do tell. I had heard that NVLD was all the rage," "No. That's so last year. This year we're using PDD-NOS as our base. It makes all the other sides so much more easy to incorporate." "Yes. Hmmm. I see. Well, I'd like to have the boy, but I think I'll take mine with just the PDD. Oh, and a dash of OCD on the side just to shake things up a bit." In any case, in spite of all the lovely letters, there were never any treatments or cures to be found. The insurance companies, apparently, are not in the business of promoting healthy development, and the schools are only interested in failure. If your child is bent, but not broken, you have to either break him yourself or let them do it. Sensible, really. No point in fixing something that's not broken. Which is the attitude we eventually adopted. We moped, we hoped, we coped. We moved on.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or in our case the rental duplex) . . . we continued to try and find a support group that was, well, supportive. The first group we tried touted itself as eclectic and inclusive with a Christian bent. Unfortunately, I failed to genuflect with enough deference before the queen, and I was cast out. The next group that we joined promised to to think freely, the only proviso was that you had to think freely exactly as they did. Eventually, the group disbanded and reformed and became a membership only group where you had to grovel and beg so the cool kids would like you. And even then, you were on thin ice. Any evidence of being different and you were taken out, baby, like yesterday's trash. Poor Sir Talks-a-lot went mental with the effort of trying not to be himself and became a twitchy, glitchy, foot firmly in mouth mess.Then it happened. We found the THE GROUP, an amazing co-op full of quirky kids, kick-butt women of all ages and backgrounds and denominations. A group where no one cared about what teaching method you used, which god you worshiped (or if you worshiped at all), how many letters of the alphabet were in front of or behind your name or attached to your psyche, and there was a sincere effort made by all to see the good in one another. We played, we stayed, and then, unfortunately, we moved on.
Now here we are in Wyoming several years later, back to the 8 year mark mentioned at the beginning of this post. Little Lady Chatterbox has evolved from a squishy baby blob to a vortex of vibrance, a deluge of delight, a cascade of cacophony, a whirling, twirling, voracious siphon of words and wonders. She's 4, and we are once again searching for a place where we fit in, a group, a tribe. I consider myself to be a seasoned homeschooler now, comfortable with my choices, comfortable with my children, comfortable with guiding others through that same process of wilderness and discovery. We'll see where the road takes us.
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~John Dewey~