This morning, like every other public school mom or dad in the neighborhood, I dropped my daughter off for the first day of sixth grade.
You may think that I’m joking, or that I’m referring to our homeschool program. But no, it’s simpler than that: My daughter has decided to go back to school.
Longtime readers will remember that I had to take my daughter out of kindergarten because she simply couldn’t hack it. School was such a bad environment for her that her teacher had no idea she could read. She was so distressed that she regressed in all areas of her development. By the time she came home, she was suffering from the stress.
And so was I. I had no idea what homeschooling even was. I’d thought of the first day of kindergarten as the first day back to my “real life.” I’d drop her off in the morning with a kiss, pick her up with a “how was school today, honey?” and expect to hear about the wonderful things she’d learned.
Instead, we had to figure it all out together. At first we were angry with each other. I was confused why such a smart girl would not be able to do well at school. She was confused why no one could understand what she was so clearly saying with her body, if not her words.
But homeschooling saved both of us. She learned how to learn in her own way—in fact, she’d known all along but hadn’t been allowed to do it. I learned how to let her go and support her but not make demands of her that she couldn’t fulfill.
To a certain extent, my daughter is the “perfect homeschooler.” It’s pretty much impossible to stop her from learning. When I would fall down on the job, she found ways to teach herself what she needed to know. (See “Spinning and Mixing” and “Swinging and Multiplying“.) I have never followed any rigid homeschooling philosophy, but it was clear that she was a born unschooler, setting goals for herself and figuring out what she needed to learn in order to achieve them.
A few years ago, she started a new tradition: each spring, she would read a lot of Harry Potter and then declare that she wanted to go back to school. And each summer, she’d dismiss the idea after I pointed out that she’d have to get up every morning, eat breakfast without grumbling about it for an hour first, and get to school before eight.
Then last spring, things were different. She temporarily gave in to the idea of continuing homeschool after her homeschool program teacher and I talked to her about ways we could change how things were working. But over the summer she admitted to me that she really did want to try school, and there was nothing I could promise that would change her mind.
The question everyone is asking me is what her reasons are. People who know her know that she’s in her element in homeschool. She gets to express herself in her own, unusual way. She gets to study ancient Greece and create inventions instead of filling out worksheets. She doesn’t have to eat a quick breakfast (something that has always been difficult for her). She can choose her teachers for whatever classes she wants to take.
It’s a little hard to be completely sure, but I think these are her general reasons:
- She has always been interested in systems. She likes to know how things work. And for an American kid, the most important system out there is school. It’s what all her favorite books are about. It’s what kids who aren’t homeschooling talk about. She wants to figure it out for herself.
- She is a seeker of novelty. Most kids would probably think that school is a bit on the boring side, but for her, it’s such a strange idea to go to the same place at the same time with the same people for nine months. And all strange ideas must be explored.
- She and I have been butting heads quite a bit, and she wants to have the time we spend together be more positive. She has been talking to me about how she’s looking forward to having “Mommy time” after school, not having me as both teacher (not that I ever taught her anything!) and nurturer. I think she’s telling me that we both need a break.
For my part, I am viewing this decision of hers as just another step in our child-led learning path. She really wants to do this. As long as she doesn’t come out the other side damaged in any way, I support her in exploring everything that interests her. If nothing else, she may come back to homeschooling with a renewed view of the freedom and challenge it offers her. On the other hand, perhaps she’ll decide that school is the right place for her, and then we’ll have a whole new pack of decisions to make.
It’s a weird feeling to drop a homeschooler off in a room with an adult she doesn’t know and 30 other children who may or may not accept her for the unusual being that she is. But there you have it: our family is having the same experience that millions of other American families are having this week. For once, we’re going to try to melt into the crowd and go with the flow. It will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else!