Last week, I was chatting with a friend (as we picnicked with our gaggle of homeschool pals at the park) about how much of a bummer it is that kids in the public system would be inside instead of outside enjoying one of the more beautiful days of the year so far.
I vividly remember feeling like I was stuck inside during those incredible pre-summer days, staring out the window in my classroom, eyes glazed, just waiting for the bell to ring.
Something about that seems so oddly restrictive now that I'm an adult who is allowed to think about stuff like that. I mean, I could have thought about that when I was a kid, but I probably wouldn't have. I would have accepted it because that's the general idea of the public school system -- we were all supposed to just agree to stuff.
But that's not exactly why I sat down to write this post. Back to my first point about how much of a drag it is that at the start of June, on a day where the sun is shining and the breeze is perfect, that kids are inside in classrooms while teachers (who are absolute saints and have so much pressure put on them) try to push that last bit of mandated content into their minds before setting them free for the summer.
The more we homeschool, the more I realize how backwards the school system is.
Back in the fall, Gretchen and I went for a walk in the woods to look for insects, watch the ducks, and explore the riverbank to see what we could find. We talked about bird songs, tracks in the mud from squirrels, we saw the evidence of a beaver chopping down a tree. We watched grasshoppers and tried to guess how far they could jump. We found the skull of a salmon and talked about it's teeth and where it's eye would have been.
And as we made our way back home, we passed by one of our neighbours who knows that we're homeschooling (a retired elementary school teachers) who smiled and commented:
"Oh, you better get back inside to the books!"
That comment has never left my mind.
I know she didn't mean to be rude or condescending. I know that her comment came from a place of misunderstanding about what homeschooling looks like. Her ideas of how children should learn are very different than mine and many others, but her comment will always be with me because it reminds me about how much we learn away from books, away from home, while exploring the world around us.
There's nothing more important than a child understanding the world around them and I really feel that there are very few things you can't teach a child that can't be taught in the woods or at the park, or walking down a pebble beach, or exploring a farm.
The trees are our books. The insects, the animals, the cloud, and the mud are our books. The wind and the rain are our books.
Children WANT to learn. It's instinctive and when you turn it into a structured, restrictive, monotonous task, their love of information dies. When my neighbour made that comment, she was thinking about test scores and the Ontario curriculum.
But I'm thinking about foster a lifelong love of learning and discovery.
Kids need less stress over memorizing facts for tests. Less homework. Less drills. Less standardized tests and anxiety over perfect scores and percentages.
Kids don't really need a teacher. They need to love knowledge. They need someone who will give them the freedom to discover the world around them and provide the resources for them to do so. They need more guides and less rules.
Kids who have this, will thrive.
If you're reading this and thinking that a "guide" is just a fancy word for a "teacher" I think we have to remember that how we perceive words is just as powerful as their actual meaning. A teacher is viewed as one vs. many. One teacher vs. many students in a classroom. A guide, however, is viewed as side-by-side. A helper. A partner. A friend, even.
Don't get me wrong, there are some amazing teachers in this world (some are my close friends) who DO give kids exactly what I'm describing, but it breaks my heart that they are stuck, especially in our province, in a system that doesn't always allow for those freedoms.
My hearts goes out to the teachers stuck in a numbers game, doing everything they can to make sure their kids succeed. I don't think I could be a teacher in the school system, so I'd like to acknowledge those incredible humans who can and are.
Homeschooled or not, kids who are given the opportunity to love learning without "getting back to the books" or stopping them in their tracks when they're in the middle of something their passionate about, will become lifelong learners. They'll crave it and it won't be tiresome or a chore.
And these truly are the types of people we need in our world.
As I'm finishing up this post at a local cafe, my daughter looks across the table and says "let's go and do our work in the park, it's such a nice day". She gets it ;)