23 March 2018

Homeschooling -- Some notes

In August 2016, I pulled my daughter out of pre-nursery and started our “homeschooling journey”. There was a lot of dissatisfaction in me about our education system and what it does to children. I was keen on alternative schools, but those are so few and far between in India. And, most of them are in big cities, while I was not.

My daughter was very excited at the idea of getting out of school. She had already been resisting school every day. Initially, I remember being a little tense at how I would manage her, now that she would be home all day.

Now, looking back, I am amused at this fear of mine. Why would I be scared at the thought of having a four-year-old at home all day? I could already see how the school had begun dictating the way we’d lead our lives.

The initial days
My daughter and I did arrive at an understanding that we would have to have some sort of schedule. We agreed that she would have to leave me alone for certain times during the day, when I’d be getting my work done. I remember being quite surprised that she was able to understand these terms of the adult world and see why are important to me.

It was only the beginning of my understanding of my daughter, in a sense. Until then, she was to me a person whom I intensely loved and cared for but I had no inkling of her capacity to understand, to know, to learn.

The other thing that I started to do, now that the nuisance of school was out of the way, was to actually spend more time with her. From the moment she woke up, I would be with her through her every morning ritual. Breakfast was when the adult concept of time would be daily challenged. Who knew it would take 10-15 minutes to observe the intricate designs of a dosa and an equal amount of time to savour each bite?

She would wake up at her own time. There was no school to rush to, no breakfast to gobble down. Things were definitely more relaxed. And, she seemed to have a lot of energy through the day.

When we started homeschooling, I bought some text books and activity books of Oxford University Publishing. Though I now see that a child’s learning trajectory doesn’t exactly follow the structure of a textbook, we still go back to these books at times.

Over the last year or so, Bhargavi has become more attached to me. Separation is not something she prefers. But at the same time, and contradictory as it may seem, she spends a lot of time playing on her own, too. She enjoys the company of her friends, whom she meets once a week. Yet, she is equally at peace on her own. I don’t need to “entertain” her or look for activities to keep her busy.

Getting bored is something I frequently see in school-going kids. And, initially, I too feared it. But I didn't have to, as I learned. A child’s world needs no props. I routinely see my daughter and any child, for that matter, make toys and games out of nothing but their imagination.

As I paid attention to the learning process of a child, I would be amazed everyday. It continues to amaze me. I couldn’t stop her from learning, if I tried.

Two important reasons to homeschool my daughter:

  • A distrust of the current education system. I strongly believe that our schools and colleges, by and large, are built to kill curiosity and the urge to learn. They are also unequipped to teach our children the skills and values needed to live their lives. For instance, it’s considered important for a five-year-old to write in cursive than be able to dress on her own or clean up after playtime. Of course, there are exceptions and there are also students who miraculously escape the system. Still, schools these days leave no space for childhood in a child’s life. I recently heard from a local school teacher about how her colleagues call up her wards at five in the morning to make sure they’re up and are with their books. Such horror stories abound.
  • An earnest interest in her learning. What will my child learn about her society -- its problems and its triumphs? Will she be able to think independently and learn to exist in a collaborative, cooperative spirit rather than in a competitive one? Will she respond to problems creatively? Can she learn to understand and accept failure, anomalies, disappointments in life? Will she be willing to share her privileges? Will she grow up into a kind and brave person? These things matter a lot to us and I didn’t see how she could learn such things at a school, given its obsession with exams and certificates.

And these were not the reasons for which we decided to homeschool
But it’s important to mention here that I don’t homeschool my child because I think she is unique and a school is in some way below her. The other day I was mildly disappointed and surprised to see a post on the Facebook page of an unlearning community about how a child prodigy was the poster boy of homeschooling.

Child prodigies are simply born that way. They cannot be explained and often have done nothing to attain the level of expertise/skill in whatever they are masters of. I have nothing against child prodigies -- how could I? They didn’t choose to be that way, but I wouldn’t celebrate them either.

Celebrating them would be a disservice to them as well as other children who are learning at their own pace.

I am not homeschooling my child to hone a particular skill or interest of hers. Not at this stage, at least. It’s all discovery now and we are simply savouring each moment.

I don’t believe that homeschooling is only for the fast-paced or the slow learner. Homeschooling or unschooling is simply the most natural, unhindered and unhurried way for a child to blossom, learn, and discover herself and the world at large.

It doesn’t preclude formal or institutionalized learning at later stages. The learner should be able to decide if she needs such education and if so, what direction it should take. That, indeed, would be one of the goals of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is now the most natural state of being to us. We would have it no other way.

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