One beautiful summer day in early September -- 12 years ago -- my three young daughters and I were barefoot on the grass, playing badminton, when the neighborhood school bus drove by. It was the first day of the new school year. I had not planned for this; not in a million years would I have predicted that I would be one of those people.
I had decided to home school my kids.
I had always thought of home schooling as something led by matronly women who required their children to recite bible verses before breakfast. But children have a way of turning what we know upside down, illuminating new paths, and inviting us to contemplate and reconsider what we were previously so damn sure of.
I did try traditional schooling with all three of my kids. Before the elementary school years, my kids were classic kids: happy, curious, thriving, and learning through everyday play. Then enter, school for child #1. If you want to see a miserable child, take a creative introvert and force her to spend seven hours a day with many other children doing mostly non-creative things. I have such a clear and poignant memory of her at six years old, sitting at the kitchen table on a beautiful spring evening, with her homework in front of her. Her younger sisters were outside playing, their voices audible through the open windows, reaching her like a tease. My oldest sat there with her assignment, resentful and desperate. She threw her pencil down and burst into tears.
“I’m not free!” she wailed, tears streaming. “I’m not free,” she repeated, quieter. “Is anyone really free?”
The effects of elementary school were similar on children #2 and #3, albeit with a little less drama. I found myself waking them on gorgeous fall days, wanting to take them apple picking or hiking, and having to coax them, instead, out the door and onto the school bus. Our interactions typically began with “Get ready for…” and “Did you finish..?” It seemed as if school plucked them out of being in the moment and into prepare-for mode. I had a sinking feeling that the next 10 years would be gobbled up by a school calendar that would spit out my kids at the end of it, childhood over. And I wondered, what if my kids spent less time preparing for life, and more time living it?
And then one day the idea hit me with such clarity. It was not a matter of listing pros and cons or analyzing choices or brainstorming. It was instant and unquestionable. I had not even considered home schooling until that moment. But when I knew, I knew.
As for the process, sure, we owned workbooks and reference books and all sorts of games. But here lies the truth that I suspect will strike a dissonant chord for many. Not for one day of their elementary years at home did I “make them do school.” Not one day. The secret I learned is this: It is possible that a childhood devoid of formal lessons can still produce someone who successfully goes to college, and sets off on a path to live an honorable life with competence and satisfaction. And I have the kids to prove it.
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Image credits: Christine Koh