My oldest daughter, Mazzy, went to headstart and preschool at this really wonderful independent school in our community. The focus was on social skills and learning through play and we loved the teachers and volunteers. Every day Mazzy was so excited to get on that little bus and head off to play with her friends. I was still working at the time and so was relieved that she loved her school so much.
The following year when she started kindergarten we saw a dramatic change in her behavior. Our once happy daughter quickly became sullen and prone to tantrums. It was around this time that we started receiving letters from her school telling us that they had issue with our daughter about… well about everything. She was too dependent on adult interaction, she wasn’t consistent with her letters, she talked during class, didn’t listen during instruction time. What was worse she was having problems with the other children teasing her. She was much larger than the rest of the kids standing a good foot taller than most and because of this several of the kids decided she must have been held back and took to calling her names for this as well as her larger size in general. Rather than try to fit her into their program (which we found incredibly restrictive) or continue subjecting her to childish cruelty we chose instead to withdraw her from school and begin home instruction.
Not being very familiar with homeschooling I made the mistake of trying to imitate school, at home. Over the course of the next couple of years we spent several thousand dollars on reading programs alone. I would work and work with her and we made no progress. We made puppets, sang songs, watched videos and tried program after program and though she knew the individual letter sounds could not blend them together to do any actual reading. It was during this frustrating time that I started researching the works of Raymond and Dorothy Moore as well as other styles of home learning. Once I understood that the ability to blend was a developmental milestone that you can not force I laid off on the instruction and focused on lots and lots of reading aloud and fun lessons in science and history that including lots of dressing up, messy projects and just good ol’ fashioned learning through play. From time to time I would feel discouraged and wondering if I was making some great mistake and then finally when she was nine years old she found some books at the library that she liked, a manga series, and wonder of wonders she read. At first it was still slow and I worried that maybe I needed to do something more with her but thankfully I held my peace and let her continue at her own pace now knowing my daughter better and understanding that if she was to master a new skill it would have to be under conditions of her own choosing.
Her love of manga led her to anime. It didn’t take long before she discovered that the story lines were often different, and the plot more interesting, in the original language and so took to watching anime in the original Japanese with English subtitles. If you have never watched a subtitled Japanese anime let me tell you those words fly by fast! Before I knew it Mazzy could speed read with the best of them. She has now moved on, at her own choice, to learning Japanese (thank you Rosetta Stone) so that she can watch the movies/shows without any complications with the language barrier.
The next great concern was with Mazzy’s spelling. Not knowing any other way I had started her instruction the same way I had been taught. Here is a list, study it, in a week we will have a test. Also like me she did not do well with this type of instruction and often her inability to spell well was a cause of massive mama guilt and embarrassment. It was during this time that her older cousin introduced her to on-line gaming. It didn’t take long for her to realize that in order to be able to effectively communicate with her group she would have to dramatically improve her spelling and learn to type. At this point you can probably guess what happened, she learned both of those skills. At her own pace and through her own force of will she greatly improved her spelling and can type as fast as me and I worked in data entry.
Recently I was curious how she stood compared to her peers, which I think is a common concern/worry for all homeschoolers from time to time. I asked her how she felt about it and she agreed that she too would like to know so I ordered her a test preparation booklet for admission into private catholic highschool and was not sorry to have done so. For the most part she found the majority of the material easy and flew through it. She was a little behind in math, but not terribly so. Interesting thing that math, she recently has taken an interest in it as she would like someday to run a homeless shelter and recognized that she would need to know how to do her own accounting. I have no doubt, now that the fire has been ignited, that in no time she will be soaring through her math studies as well.
Every now and again I wonder how things might have turned out had I not pulled Mazzy out of school. There is of course no way for me to know for sure, but I truly believe we made one of the best decisions of our lives by homeschooling. I think of the confidence my daughter has. I ponder her impeccable moral character and her genuine love for the people around her and those that she will some day meet. I reflect on her creativity and the way she has been able to practice self-expression through her appearance over the years. Then I realize that all of that could have been squashed and replaced by a broken being, not just by the school but also by my own insistence to fit her into a mold that she was too grand and complex to fit into.
Tomorrow I will talk about my second daughter Lydia and the very different path we went down with her, the mistakes and the triumphs. There was still so much I needed to learn about not trying to fit education, or people, into the boxes we create for them.