Before I became a mom, I was a teacher. I spent three years teaching in the public school system, coaching school teams, and supervising school activities. Being in school was a safe place for me. It was consistent and structured, and allowed me, as both student and a teacher, to control my life inside those four walls. I loved order, and authority, and thrived within it... because I didn't have to think for myself. I did what I was told. I taught what the curriculum told me to teach. Rules and guidelines. These things gave me great comfort.
However, as I stepped away from my narrow viewpoint, and started to see things from many of my students' perspective, I started to get a glimpse into the possibility that school isn't such a great place to be after all.
DISCLAIMER: I am not condemning or judging any of my friends who are incredible teachers and administrators in the public school system! I am inspired by you, and admire what you do every single day. Truly. And I am not judging any of the parents out there who send their children to school each day! Like I said above, I loved school and thrived in the environment that school provided. For many children it's a great option. I just want to share some insight into why I choose to homeschool my boys.
I started to see that many of my students didn't fit the mold that the school system had prepared for them. The environment that they were forced to be confined to, the curriculum and testing that they must go through, the comparisons and judgements they were forced to endure..... all of these things that made them shrink into a version of themselves that simply succumbed and gave up, or that made them rebel and try to break free -- both of which caused stress, trauma, and undue heartache for both my students and myself. And, to keep things brief, I ultimately chose to "get out before I got too bitter".
Each person is uniquely valuable, gifted with purpose and worthy of respect throughout all phases of his or her life’s journey.
This is one of the main principles of LifeWays education, and it has truly shaped my views on education. It doesn't matter if a child is 3 or 23, they are UNIQUE, they are GIFTED, and they are WORTHY of RESPECT. These tenants are not often fostered in a public setting, and now that I have children of my own, I recognized that the best way for their uniqueness, and their gifts to be respected and cherished was by giving them the opportunity to be educated here at home.
I truly believe that today's society isn't set up in a way that allows kids to be kids anymore. With the pressures that are imposed on parents to enrol their child in the best daycare and preschool before the child is even birthed, it's no wonder that parents feel stressed to give their children it all right away. From baby registries that tell you your child needs Mozart playing balls, that flash primary colour lights as they roll to encourage crawling, to apps that tell you your child should be meeting "milestones" by a certain age, the pressure to perform is placed on our children from day one! From 18 month "assessments", and here in New Brunswick, Canada, EYEDA testing before kindergarten - labels and judgements are placed on our kids on the day that are told to perform for a complete stranger in a scary, unknown environment. It's enough to give moms anxiety to the point that they can't even enjoy the child they worked so hard to create and grow inside of them for fear of putting their child behind. In LifeWays education they believe that "Childhood is a valid and authentic time unto itself and not just a preparation for schooling. Skipping or hurrying developmental phases can undermine a child’s healthy and balanced development." So for me, I basically allowed myself to follow my children's lead. Be here to guide and support them in whatever way was needed, but ultimately, my kids know what they need and what they're ready for.
I knew in my heart, the minute my Luke was born, that I wouldn't be going back to work. That I wanted to spend every second I could with him, and that I needed to enjoy his childhood, however fleeting it may be, while he was in it. I began to learn more about Waldorf, and LifeWays as it resonated with my gut instincts as a mom. One principle of LifeWays really stuck out to me and gave me "permission" to follow that gut feeling: Young children thrive in the presence of parents and other devoted caregivers who enjoy life and caring for children. They learn primarily through imitation/empathy and, therefore, need to be cared for by people with integrity and warmth who are worthy of being imitated. This is the foundation for learning and healthy development.
Nobody will love my boys as much as Mitch and I do. Nobody will be as devoted, and caring, and empathetic to my children's needs as Mitch and I will. I know some incredible teachers who are loving and caring and are full of warmth, but despite all of that they won't love my boys like I love my boys. And, sadly, not all teachers in the system are people of integrity and warmth and are worth of being role models for my kids. So, instead, Mitch and I choose to be the ones laying a solid, strong foundation for Luke and Lochlan's learning, and healthy development. As Gandhi says, “There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.”
"In infancy and early childhood, daily life experience is the “curriculum.” The child’s relationships to the caregivers and to the environment are the two most important aspects through which the child can experience healthy life rhythms/routines. These include the “nurturing arts” of rest and play, regular meal times, exploring nature, practical/domestic activities, social creativity, music and simple artistic activities". - LifeWays North America
The joy that happens daily here at home with my boys doing routine, mundane, tasks is one of the things I love the most about homeschooling. The boys have learned to LIVE. They are so capable and have so much knowledge that many children their age don't have, simply because we choose to do things in a different way. We make all our food from scratch from ingredients that we either grow ourselves, or get from local farmers... the boys help plant, harvest, wash, peel, cut, and cook it all. The boys have responsibilities and chores. They have SO much free time and play independently (together) for the majority of the day-- most of it outside. They love to draw, paint, knit, sew, and express themselves artistically. They are starting to learn piano and pentatonic flute. And yes, we adhere to early bedtimes (they're in bed by 6:30 most nights). This "boring" life, is one that we love. It may not be for everyone, but my boys are proud of themselves, and what they know, and so am I.
Elizabeth Foss writes in her book Real Learning: Education In The Heart Of The Home, “When I look at a child, I see a living, breathing person, made in God's image, for whom God has a plan. As parent educators, we need to embrace a new notion of learning...we need to engage the heart in order to effectively educate the child. Our vision of a well-educated child is a child who has a heart for learning, a child who has the tools he needs to continue to learn for a lifetime and a child who has the love to want to do it.” This is fundamental to what Waldorf education espouses and what makes Waldorf so beautiful... an education that reaches the head, heart and hands.
From a LifeWays point of view, "Young children thrive in a home or home-like environment that offers beauty, comfort and security, and connection to the living world of nature. Healthy sense development is fostered when most of their clothing and playthings are of non-synthetic materials and their toys allow for open-ended, imaginative play." In a world that is so full of toxins I make the conscious effort to minimize the boys' exposure to environmental toxins. In the public system the chemical cleaners and soaps that are used cause me to have massive migraines and my lungs feel like they are going to close up. I could only imagine what they would do my children each day. I can be the gatekeeper of what comes into my home but I can't at school. Homeschooling allows my boys to simply breathe.
Another principle of LifeWays education is that "Human relationship and activity are the essential tools for teaching the young child all foundational skills for life. Infants and toddlers develop most healthily when allowed to have freedom of movement in a safe environment. For three- to six-year-olds, creative play, not technology or early academics, forms the best foundation for school work and for life-long learning."
This is VERY different from the 21st Century Learning initiatives that our public system is working with. Instead of SMARTboards and tablets, and computers my boys use chalkboards, and parchment, and beeswax crayons. My boys cannot tell you what coding is, but they can take you for a walk down Penner Trail and tell you every pant and show you what you can eat and how it helps your body. Is one better than the other? NO! But for me, homeschooling allows my boys to learn and experience the natural world in a way that will foster a love and passion for the environment. And, at a time where our climate is in a state of crisis, I believe that helping my children care is of utmost importance.
David O. McKay writes, “The home is the first and most effective place to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self control, the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.” So, the pressure is still on for me as a mom and educator. But it's a pressure placed on myself and one that I will gladly accept as I bear witness to my children's lives and learning.
*All photos by Emma Foster Photography*