Here's a big confession: on this road of home education, I make plans to teach for the day, and usually end up being the learner. Getting over myself and stepping back is becoming easier for me as we continue to journey by faith and purpose. I often hear remarks of parents with children in traditional schools and their claim that "I'm not organized or disciplined enough to do what you are doing." While we do have a structure, a loose plan and scheduled activities, and while we are committed to showing up for class every day, at the core there are strong feelings and a philosophy operating behind the scenes. It is the philosophy and the feelings that drive the progress.
The feelings that prompted us to take this leap were powerful. We felt that the spark of joy and enthusiasm in our son was being covered over and squelched by the climate and the attitudes he endured while in the traditional classroom. We wanted him to love learning, because he was born to learn and grow and to be excited about life, people, nature and God. What we saw was a boy who came home with his life overly burdened and his head down.
Children are born to learn. This learning happens even when the instruction is poor or non existent. What we wanted for Elliot was to learn things to enhance his enjoyment and success in life. To develop an inner confidence in his abilities to meet challenges and not be defeated by the struggle, effort and patience it takes to learn complex systems like language and mathematics, science and art. But more than that, we wanted him to be comfortable in being himself without overly negative criticism or harsh consequences when he made slow progress in difficult areas. What Elliot was really learning in the traditional school was that he couldn't learn and was probably never going to learn.
My only goal in taking on the role of Elliot's academic teacher is to instill an unwavering belief that he can learn and succeed and that he has a potential so great that none of us even knows the full expression of his life in this moment. Whenever he experiences a block, the only thing he needs is to have patience with himself and a desire to keep moving forward.
So even when I only have these feelings and the philosophy to proceed with the learning for the day, I discover that what's really going on here is that I'm not the teacher.
Perhaps this sounds like sarcasm, so let me explain. I have much to learn about the full expression of my own life. I'm a recovering introvert who loves days of solitude and not much interaction with people out in our city. Elliot, on the other hand, loves everyone. He talks to people first without waiting for an invitation. He just dives right in and brings out kindness and smiles and good feelings.
Yesterday was a glorious last day of September. We packed a lunch, a backpack full of books, flash cards, pencils, markers and paper. We donned helmets and rode our bikes to the Natural Science Center (which has an aquarium and a zoo), then studied on the picnic tables outside in the park with playgrounds and trees all around. On the way there, Elliot greeted almost every jogger, walker and biker with a friendly "Hi! I hope you have a nice day!" or "I hope you have a very nice day!"
Instead of being annoyed by his precociousness, every single person beamed back a smile and responded "you too Sweetie!!!"
One young college student, who seemed absorbed in his phone looked up and said "thank you, Buddy!"
As the afternoon rolled on, we headed home. On the sidewalks we saw the lifeless remains of a squirrel, a bird and a cicada. Elliot responded, "we sure have seen a lot of death today."
I countered, "but really we saw a whole lot of life!" And he agreed. There were children at the playgrounds and animals at the zoo, and two deer in the park he was fortunate enough to see in the clearing near the trail.
So much life. And all of those people to receive and return his positive, kind intentions.
Later, while in the grocery store, his openness carried on when he spotted a shopper with a large squash that took up half the space in the cart. At the sight of it he said, "nice pumpkin!" And so the chain of his bubbly young energy flew once again out into the world.
Of course, I made room in our cart for one of those giant orange pumpkins.
Elliot is my teacher. This understanding lights up something in me that cannot be contained.