I first learned about homeschooling from reading Home-Grown Kids by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. That was when I was a new parent, so I had time to do some research before making the decision to homeschool. I did a lot of reading; one of my prime influences was John Holt.
Holt was a teacher whose school experiences taught him that when given freedom to make choices and explore their world, children learn on their own. Reading his books was an eye-opening experience for me. It helped me assess my own childhood school years and why I’d been so dissatisfied with them.
For many years, John Holt published a wonderful newsletter called “Growing Without Schooling” that was a great encouragement to homeschooling parents. I inhaled each issue, and decided that encouraging my children’s desire for independent learning would be part of their home education.
This was fine in theory. But I found that in practice it could be frustrating sometimes. For instance, my eldest was born with a very independent spirit that she was more than eager to exercise. At first I thought it was cute when I’d hear her in her room, huffing and puffing while removing the clothes I’d dressed her in so she could wear her own choices. (She had trouble changing clothes because she was only 18 months old!) But when we had to be somewhere at a certain time, and I couldn’t get her out of the house because the shirt she wanted was in the laundry and she refused to wear anything else, I decided this independence thing had its downside.
Of course I got to relearn that lesson as I had more children. Yes, I wanted them to think for themselves and to follow their curiosity when it came to learning, but often that meant inconvenience for me. This was never truer than when Josh, our youngest, was little. By then I had gotten into the habit of letting my babies explore the house as much as possible. Since Josh had delays due to Down syndrome, almost every developmental stage came later than normal and so we were overjoyed when he finally started showing curiosity about his world.
But this meant that he began getting into everything, and because his low muscle tone (typical of Down syndrome) allowed him to put his foot over his head, he could climb over our tall gates by throwing his little foot over the top and hurling himself over them. He could also open the refrigerator and climb up the glass shelves to the top, and he was so skinny that he could stay in there and pull the door shut. Not good.
Once he experienced a little freedom, however, Josh was hooked. Not long after we began keeping the kitchen table in front of the refrigerator (when we weren’t eating a meal, anyway), he discovered the oven. One day I caught him just as he was climbing into it to join the pizza he saw in there. It was a miracle that I was able to catch him before his little hands grabbed the hot rack and his knees landed on the hot interior of the door.
Another day, we found him in front of the microwave, pressing buttons. He was trying to cook his brother’s wristwatch. Life with Josh soon meant perpetual vigilance that involved everyone in the household. I was torn between my desire to see him learn and my desire to keep him in a cage.
While we’ve never been able to give up that vigilance (we still keep our car keys out of sight because Josh thinks he can drive), things did settle down somewhat as our kids got older. But once they could drive, I was reminded of their toddler days. All of a sudden there was this great big world for them to explore on their own, only this time on wheels. Nobody was content to stay in the neighborhood now. No, it was driving to concerts in other cities late at night, and later on, driving to other states to see friends. Once again I found myself torn between encouraging them to learn on their own, and wanting to keep them home where I didn’t have to worry about them, where it was more convenient for me.
That’s why I haven’t always liked the independence I encouraged my kids to develop. But it had to happen. This is how they learn, and how they’ll always learn. To steal a phrase, it’s an inconvenient truth. We have to let them be independent, and we won’t always like it. At least I won’t!