Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Road to Independence, Part I

"You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable."
~Kahlil Gibran

When our oldest was born, a co-worker copied this whole Kahlil Gibran poem out for me and gave it to me with a gift. I'd read Gibran before and had his book The Prophet, but I don't know that I'd ever really read it until she gave me this poem. I've carried this image of our children as arrows shooting forth ever since, knowing that our ultimate goal in parenting is to let our children go forth.

I've never considered homeschooling to be a place to hide from the world. Some accuse homeschoolers of trying to shelter their kids too much, with "shelter" used as a dirty word. I do think that some parents choose to insulate their children to a degree I find disturbing, but this is certainly not limited to homeschooling parents. Shelter, to me, is defined as being a refuge or a place of protection, not a prison. A place of comfort and of catching one's breath, of learning to stand on one's own two feet and stretch.

Now that my oldest is in his senior year, I frequently hear this kind of statement from those with younger students: "I can't imagine my child ever being ready." And they don't just mean being ready academically, but being ready emotionally and physically. Being independent. Spreading those proverbial wings. Being an arrow.

(And don't forget: arrows don't always hit the bulls'-eye, or even the target.)

The road to independence was deliberate for us. I took a relaxed approach up through grade 6. Certainly not unschooling, but definitely far from school-at-home. But starting in seventh grade, I began giving Jesse more and more independent work. I would give him a checklist of the things that needed to be done on his own and check his work after he finished. I know that lots of parents start the checklists earlier, but checklists didn't fit well into my relaxed K-6 philosophy. I wanted him at this point to take more ownership of his education.

In eighth grade we added several co-op classes that required homework and thus made him accountable to someone other than his parents. OK, well, actually, I did teach two of the classes that he took, but still: he had regular homework.

(Station break: if you're reading this and you don't homeschool, I can't even explain this concept to you because you're thinking, "Duh! My kids always have homework! Are you a moron?" But of course it doesn't work that way in home education. All of their homework is homework, except it's not really that kind of homework. One reason that we, in fact, began to homeschool was because we found the amount of homework in public school at 1st grade to be ridiculous and obscene.)

So, back to being accountable to someone else. Although we'd always been active in our co-op, the classes had been enrichment classes up until this point—classes without letter grades. But beginning in eighth grade, Jesse took two high-school level courses: algebra and physical science. Both classes (taught by homeschooling parents) were in a fairly traditional classroom setting with tests and homework and the whole shebang. Our co-op classes only meet once each week, so the kids are given a whole week's worth of lessons (and thus 5 days' worth of assignments) in one class (classes lasted up to 1.5 hours).

These classes brought a new dimension to his life. The previous year had given him a good foundation in working independently and following a checklist; now he was putting this into action and doing his work for someone else. Trust me, it makes a difference.

We went through some stressful weeks, especially with algebra. Dr. H. helped him with his lessons. But he did the bulk of the work on his own, including studying for tests. He began to develop his own system of studying.

So heading into high school, we had a pretty good foundation of working independently. But we built up to this very gradually. One of the key reasons that we chose to homeschool was so that our kids could have a l-o-n-g childhood without the stress that comes along with traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Rather than doing reading comprehension worksheets in school in sixth grade, Jesse was playing Legos on the floor at home while I read aloud to him. Rather than playing dodgeball for PE, Jesse was outside building forts, digging holes, or hiking.

It's a life we chose deliberately, and our ultimate goal has always included strength of character and independence.

Stay tuned for more on the Road to Independence as we move into high school… driving… jobs… dual enrollment… and college.

Read Part 2 of The Road to Independence.


  1. Great post and one that is exactly what we have done in our homeschool. I look forward to the rest of your series.

  2. I too want my children to be self-motivated and independent, to own their education. I find we are morphing more towards unschooling, because I want them to have a long childhood as well. My oldest is 8, so I still have a few years to work towards independence.

  3. THANK YOU for posting this! I just took a big sigh of relief. I kept thinking I had done wrong for my oldest (13 & in the "7th" grade) but really this is what I wanted for him & had never put in to words. My plan for next year is to continue giving him more independent work - I started doing that this year. I look forward to reading more!

  4. Excellent job Sarah. You've posted well an excellent philosophy. The brick and mortar schools, I would posit are NOT actually traditional but are rather a modern construct and, in fact, are more of a prison. The book Quit School and get a real education by Grace Llewelyn is a great one for laid back philosophy. It is not Christian per se but captures the essence of homeschooling. We homeschooled NOT to escape but to provide the best academics we could. I'm sure we made loads more mistakes than you did but we were so indoctrinated by the state schools we just didn't break away as freely.

  5. Thank you for the post. I am really looking forward to your whole series. Our oldest is in 7th grade so the issue of fostering her independence and preparing her for high school courses (even though we will continue to homeschool) is an important one to me. For us, our daughter's passion of competitive swimming has been quite helpful in moving her towards independence. Setting goals and working towards them, building relationships with coaches and team members, and competing in meets have all really helped our daughter to "stretch her fins" over the past three years.
    I look forward to your whole series!

  6. As a teacher of HS seniors, I can tell you that the study habits, time management skills and responsibility you have been teaching are at least as important in the "unsheltered" world as any actual subject content. But you know that.

  7. My oldest two are a college freshman and a high school senior. Our methods and ideology sound very similar. My college student has made a very easy transition to campus life and is doing quite well in his classes. Yes, homeschooling really does work!


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