Thursday, January 22, 2009

Homeschooling experiences

Part I: Background

I was born into a family of book- and music-lovers and as a child I loved stories, reading, learning things, knowing how to do things and doing them well. I remember lying on the couch with my daddy as he read his beloved Asimov, holding my own book and “reading” it. I remember “reading” Miss Suzy to my infant brother when I was only two years old. I guess I had the book memorized and told him the story, but I thought I was reading it. I remember nights spent lying on the lawn with Daddy and my brother watching the shooting stars, and sitting under the carport during thunderstorms just enjoying the enormous sounds and learning to count after a thunderclap to find out how far away the lightening was. I remember setting up my little housekeeping things — my ironing board and iron (that really plugged in and got warm), my baby’s high chair, my dishes — in my room and playing house, and making everything pretty and tidy, imitating my mom’s work around the house. I remember going to sleep at night to the sound of my mother playing Chopin or The Carpenters on the piano.

I also have terrible memories of being in daycare during the two or three years after I was born when my mom was still teaching school. I just wanted to be at home with my Mommy.

When I started kindergarten, I remember going straight to my seat every morning and sitting quietly, watching the other kids as they played noisily together, and thinking to myself, “How do they do that? I have to get used to everyone before I can talk to them.” I remember paying close attention to the brief phonics lessons. And I remember that I was already really reading by the time I started first grade, though I don’t remember actually being taught to read. We had Dick and Jane style stories were so dull I didn’t know how the other kids could stand them. I remember making my own private game of being the first in the class to complete each worksheet the teacher gave us. Getting a perfect score wasn’t victory enough.

I loved first grade — it made me feel so grown up to be there — and mostly liked second grade, but by sixth grade I had come to hate school. I just wanted to be at home reading books or climbing trees or riding my bike, or even working for my daddy at his laboratory (he was chemist, and self-employed). I hated dressing out for P.E. in those skimpy, ugly uniforms. I hated being around so many people every day and all the rushing around. I hated math homework. And English homework. I always listened in class, participated in the discussions (such as they were), did the assigned readings, and always aced the tests (well, except for math, but I didn’t really care what grade I got in math as long as I passed and didn’t have to repeat the class), but I resented the time spent on homework because I already knew the stuff, and often left it undone. The exception was reports and research papers, because they were such a large part of the final class grade, and I hated for my report card to make me look like I was stupid.

But most of what we learned in school was Information and Facts, and what I wanted was Stories. I was good enough at remembering the information and spouting it off again, but what I realize now is that those things just aren’t nourishing, and I was starving to death. As a matter of fact, what I really learned in school was How to Be a First-Class Prig. It’s a lesson I’m still unlearning.

Some time in my mid teens I read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and loved his description of his childhood – the stories he and his brother wrote, the maps they drew, the time they spent playing in their garden. By the time his mother died when he was eight or nine years old, she’d already gotten him pretty far along in French and had started him in Latin. And obviously he could already read and write though it wasn’t till after she died that he began attending school where he studied history and literature, poetry and Greek (and some math in there, too). I was almost jealous, wishing I could learn those things.

Fast forward a couple of years. The family I regularly babysat for began homeschooling their three little girls, so right away I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, and I wanted my children’s education to be as much like Lewis’s (except for the horrific boarding school experiences) as I could make it – though I doubted I could do much beyond giving them a quiet childhood at home with lots of stories and music and time out-of-doors. Looking back on it, what I was wanted was to recreate and improve on the best parts of my own childhood and make it last longer, but knowing how C.S. Lewis was raised and how he turned out legitimized my own desire for a cozy childhood at home. And knowing about homeschooling gave me the idea that it was something that really could be done in this day and age. The children could always go to school when they were nine or ten years old.

More later…

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