It was the workbooks that pushed us over the edge.
Jonna was eight. We were homeschoolers, relaxed in our routines but not yet unschoolers. So when September rolled around, I bought a bunch of grade-level workbooks and planned a bit of daily instruction. Low key, no pressure, just something to keep us on track.
That I thought we needed to be “on track” gives you an idea of where my head was.
Jonna was a good sport about it. She did a page or two out of each workbook. And that was enough for her.
“It’s just the same thing over and over,” she said.
“It’s boring,” she said.
My response was to cajole. And sometimes to insist. The workbooks represented the only formal instruction we were doing, and I needed them. I needed to see those completed pages. I needed them to put my not-quite-trusting mind at ease. “Yes, there is learning going on here.”
It’s sad but probably not unusual that I felt I needed this evidence of learning to come to me in paper form, via completed worksheets, quizzes, spelling lists and so on. I’m a product of schooling.
But really, everywhere in our lives there was evidence that learning was going on all the time. It was occurring, whether we planned for it or not, within the context of our days together, when we played with legos and built box forts and went to the library and took walks in the woods and collected treasures and hung out with other homeschoolers and watched movies and played computer games and board games and baked cookies and made art and read books. The learning was always happening.
And our lives were interesting. And fun. And satisfying. Except for that hour or so every morning, when the two of us were quite unhappy.
At my insistence.
So here was a question: why was I insisting?
It was a question in need of an answer, and I didn’t want the knee-jerk response: because this is stuff she needs to know. I wanted the deeper answer, the better answer, because I sensed there were deeper issues involved, issues having to do with who decides? and why this? and why now?
These questions troubled my thinking for quite a while. And as one led to another, I found myself reconsidering many assumptions about my role as parent and what kids “need” and when they “need it.” And at last it occurred to me that this wasn’t about “kids” at all. It was about my own daughter, and our relationship, and our choices, and our lives.
And within that context, it was obvious — finally! — that those stupid workbooks were messing with the serenity of our home. Messing with my (otherwise) peaceful, happy relationship with my daughter. Messing with my sense of sovereignty over our daily lives.
So I held my breath and I tossed them. Trust over fear.
It was a start.