Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ode to those who came before:

By Michelle Dalrymple

Sometimes, no matter how much we read or do for ourselves, we have to come to terms with an undeniable truth – sometimes experience is the best teacher.

It is easy to pay lip service to this in the context of homeschooling. We try to offer our children a wealth of experience, from soccer to piano to art, in a blatant attempt to provide that oh-so-valuable experience. However, just as often, parents need to be students and learn from those who have gone before.

I live in Michigan and have for two years. Before that we lived in Illinois. As such, I have no concept of what it would be like to have to “do” anything with regards to our homeschool. Neither Illinois nor Michigan (any more) require reporting, testing, or even filing an “Intent to Homeschool” form as I have heard others lament. To our family, homeschooling means nothing more than buying some books and hitting the library.

However, there are those who have gone before and fought the good fight to enable us to have this great homeschooling environment. It is strange for me to sit and listen to what homeschooling parents, just a few years older than I, have had to do in order to educate their kids at home. Their stories became my learning experience, so I know what I need to do and know that I am fortunate to have the privileges of homeschooling ease as a result.

These homeschooling stories, these “lessons” do more than just let me know how lucky I am; they offer knowledge and advice that I really couldn’t find anywhere else. Who else can I turn to but a veteran homeschooler with a teenage daughter to learn if my daughter’s undividable attention to dance and art is a blessing or a curse? And if my late elementary son doesn’t like to write stories like other kids (even other boys) his age, who else can I ask but my homeschool friend with two sons, one a teen-ager and one just a year older than my own? These parents, these homeschool mothers provide me with a sense of relief and confidence – greater than I could receive from any book or seminar. If I have a concern, these great ladies are waiting in the wings for my phone call, a wealth of information in hand.

Most importantly, those who have gone before offer more than just support or advice; I think they help us to stay on track, to see the truth of what we are trying to accomplish as homeschoolers. Here is the best example of I have encountered of losing that focus. This year had been a bad year to start. In July I did the math and figured that, since the very first of this year, we have only done "school" consistently for one month - April. The remainder of the year to that point was interrupted by illness (Jan, Feb, March), vacation (May), and a death of a close relative - Papa (June). We could even go back into 2004 and look at November and December as half-months of any merit as well.

While these were all valid reasons for not accomplishing what we (I) wanted, it is heart-wrenching. It made this year feel like a complete bust, and I felt discouraged at best. We were so far behind that we continued “school,” a little bit each day, for the remainder for the summer to be ready for our new year.

I was despondent about this, and one afternoon I spoke to a good friend who also homeschools. Her youngest is now 15, so she has some great experience that I lack. I gave her our horrible timeline and explained that all we had really done consistently this year was read. In the most sage of tones, she said, "It sounds like your kids learned two very important things this year: to care for others, especially those we love, and to love reading. It sounds like your kids learned a lot this year."

I have look on in awe at the great experiences of my friend that allowed her to give me my own little bit of education. This went far deeper than advice or recommendation. This was insight. As someone who has traveled this journey before me, she had a range of comprehension that I would not have for years to come. As a result, on the phone that day, she presented me with a very special gift. She gave me that gift of knowledge sooner than I would have learned it on my own. In doing so, she set my mind at ease, and I was able to rethink our summer and all that our children had learned over the past year.

My kids did learn a lot this year. And I think I learned a little something this year, too.