Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You want me to do what?

I was recently confronted by something I never really thought I'd hear. But, life likes to throw funny little things at people, and sure enough, the other day, one of my kids said to me:
"I was thinking maybe you could start giving me weekly assignments, and then you could check them and give me evaluations."
I was nearly too baffled to reply, but the child was serious. This kid has always been a hard worker, with a good ethic, committed to her projects and all that. She was one of those babies with wise eyes that would peer into your soul. As a toddler, she would come up with shocking bits of wisdom, and has continued to be a child with a strong moral and logical compass. While I strew her path with many wonderful educational things to choose from, most of the time, the choice is hers. I'm not that into labels, but if I were, I would say we are pretty darn relaxed in our eclectic homeschooling style. We're not exactly radical unschoolers, but we're pretty unschoolish. More often than not, this child has had an amazing sense of self motivation, and I like to let her roll with it. But now she wants assignments, and evaluations. Oh dear.

We've never really done grades. I mean, if one of my kids does a lousy job (as in lousy because they didn't try, not because they're kids) I'll definitely call them on it. But that would be something like "When I said sweep the floor, I meant to sweep the stuff UP and into a dustpan rather than under the rug." or "Was this writing supposed to be in some kind of code, or did you just really not want to do this?" I've never felt the need to dissect their work with letter grades. Sometimes they do a great job, sometimes good, sometimes OK, but  if they're genuinely trying, that's what I'm looking for. If they're not trying, it depends on the reason. They might not like every single thing they ever have to do (like clean the cat box, but the like the cat, so that's part of the deal) but I'm not into the forcing of things that are boring or pointless. Many kids their ages groan about and dread what they consider "learning," but I am pretty darn pleased with the fact that learning is exciting to mine. I'm also convinced that it is because we keep fun and choice in the process. The world has enough suffering without adding to it needlessly. Besides, I'm homeschooling because I enjoy the good times with my kids, not because I want them to struggle and suffer.

We haven't really separated school and life either. It's all part of life. We don't do subjects; we just do stuff. So, it took me a bit to process how this was all going to work. But, I do want to give my kids what it is that they need, so we talked more about it. It turns out what this child is really wanting is not necessarily externally imposed goals and grades (Thank God!!) but more help in learning how she can accomplish her own goals (which are growing all the time,) in staying on track and moving ahead, learning time management, more feedback etc. That, I can do.
She decided she wants to continue progressing more in math and music, so I am helping her to make sure she schedules those in her days at least three times a week. She also enters a lot of writing and art contests, so I agreed to give her more feedback on her work (which she can take or leave) before she submits it. She agreed to try not to be sensitive about it since it was her request. We also came up with a few other people who can also critique her writing so she can hear what a broader audience thinks. Lastly, she wants to earn more money for dance and other things, so instead of just randomly assigning chores, we worked on a list of things that regularly need to be done from which she can choose daily. We agreed that every weekend, we'd set aside a time to talk about the past week, how things went, and what everyone wanted for the week ahead.

We did all of these before, but overall, what I think she is looking for is more consistency and less randomness. Our rhythm has always changed with the seasons, but with all the changes in our lives in the last year, it's been a bit more scattered than usual. Since we're on this life learning journey together, I'm trying to be a better example and work on my own skills in balancing and prioritizing, not to mention stress management. I'm realizing that with some things (like the above mentioned ones for me,) it really is a life long process. I will probably never be one of those super organized, ultra calm and cheery moms, but as long as I'm making baby steps, trying to meet my kids' needs, and raising a happy family, I'm going to be happy with that.