We sat down for a few minutes, just the two of us. He was busy playing, as always, but he made time for me in his busy schedule of designing train tracks, playing tag with his siblings, and building a massive Lego house.
“What do you want to learn about this year?” I asked him. I always ask him this every year. Sometimes he gives me a few sentences. Sometimes he blows me off and runs away. Sometimes he only tells me what he doesn’t want to do – usually anything that has to do with reading. This time, he paused and thought carefully for a minute.
“I think I want to learn about CO2,” he said. “Greenhouse gases?” I asked? He nodded. “And how they interact with the sun, and water conservation, and hurricanes, and tornadoes …” he was off and running, and his mouth didn’t stop until several breathless paragraphs later. Wow, kiddo, that’s a lot!
I said yes
I told him yes. What else was I supposed to say? He wants to learn, I’ll help him. End of story.
The funny thing to me is that I sat down with our state’s Standards Of Learning before I even asked him. I looked at what public school kids learn in his grade to make sure we didn’t have any major gaps. I thought it was funny – in second grade science, his age grade is supposed to learn about weather. To track it, identify clouds, know the basic terms, and so on. My kid? He wants all the details about wind shear and thermals. Because that’s interesting to him.
I love giving him this gift – this ability to choose what he wants to learn about. Our state doesn’t study earth science until 5th grade – he wants to learn about plate tectonics now. I’m ok with that. If it’s interesting he’ll remember. If he wants to, it won’t be a battle. If kids are invested and interested in their own education, they want to learn. They absorb details like a sponge and make amazing logic leaps. It’s the intuitive way to learn.
Of all the things I love about homeschooling, this has to be the top one: freedom. Not just my freedom to teach what I want to teach or not squash our days into little blocks of regulated time – his freedom. His ability to choose. In reality, that’s what adults do, right? We decide what we’re interested in and we learn about it. Even in college you pick your major and add little things here and there you’re interested in (minor.) He gets to do that too.
The hidden issues
For a kid with anxiety issues, it’s a big deal. For a reluctant learner, it’s a massively huge big deal. He doesn’t realize that but I do. It’s why I say yes, no matter what. I’m the one having to find resources and build unit studies. I’m the one doing most of the work at this point because he can’t do independent study. That’s ok! I’m here to guide him and help him. That’s my job as a homeschool parent: to be an educational guide.
It makes me sad – I know a lot of kids would love to be able to pick out what they want to study. They can’t – at least, not in most public and private schools. Traditional schools exist to teach a stable ladder of skills, not to encourage individual growth. The traditional school model isn’t designed that way. I wish I could give this educational gift to every kid, not just mine.
The rest of it
Of course, he doesn’t get to pick everything. Math and Language Arts are a given. Art and History are in class format this year. He gets input on those too, but some of it is not negotiable. He does get to pick the format. The math problems. He even gets to pick which days he wants to do them within reason.
Today, he asked to only do addition and greater than, equal to, or less than problems. I said yes. Because tomorrow we’ll practice isolating variables. The next day we’ll review subtraction and multiplication. Giving him that control helps a lot – and he did a 6-digit addition problem that regrouped all the way to 7 digits. It was still addition!
This is the way learning should be.